Charles Bukowski’s ‘Friendly advice to a lot of young men’ is an unforgettable poem that lays out the things the poet thinks men should and should not do in life.
Throughout ‘Friendly advice to a lot of young men,’ Bukowski creates a series of interesting images and unusual life events that he suggests young men should seek out. Most of these are hyperbolic to some extent, or at the very least quite poor suggestions. But, together, they paint a picture of a life filled with action and excitement.
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Summary of Friendly advice to a lot of young men
Throughout the lines of ‘Friendly advice to a lot of young men,’ the poet’s speaker tells young men that they need to seek out a variety of experiences, ones that are only represented by the feelings the lines of the poem create. He brings together descriptions that include traveling to Tibet, breaking one’s head open with a hatchet, running for Mayor, and many more, to create a picture of a life well and very outrageously lived. The reader will have different reactions to the suggestions Bukowski puts forward but when considered together, it’s clear that he wants men to go out and do whatever they want to. That is, everything but the one thing he chose to spend his life doing—writing poetry.
You can read the full poem ‘Friendly advice to a lot of young men’ here.
Themes in Friendly advice to a lot of young men
Bukowski engages with themes of life, writing, and masculinity in ‘Friendly advice to a lot of young men.’ He directs the lines of his poem to young men, ones that are not unlike he was before he chose to embark on a writing career. He remembers his own youth and included in the lines of this poem are suggestions that should inspire readers to set out and experience the world. While it’s clear he didn’t want people to literally do some of the things in the poem, he did understand the way these outrageous suggestions when considered together would make one excited to step out their door. They all lead up to his one central thought, that men should do everything they want in life except write poetry. This alludes to his own struggles with his career, the act of writing, and the consequences of putting one’s words down on paper.
Structure and Form of Friendly advice to a lot of young men
‘Friendly advice to a lot of young men’ by Charles Bukowski is a three-stanza, twenty-one line poem that is separated into two sets of ten lines and one final single line. These lines are written in free verse. This means that they do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. Readers will notice right away that the lines vary in length, from three words up to twelve. Despite the fact that this poem doesn’t have a clear rhyme scheme, there are a few examples of rhyme scattered throughout the lines. For example, “blue” and “canoe” in the first lines of stanza one.
Literary Devices in Friendly advice to a lot of young men
Bukowski makes use of several literary devices in ‘Friendly advice to a lot of young men.’ These include but are not limited to alliteration, juxtaposition, and imagery. The first of these is a type of repetition. It occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “Bible” and “blue” in lines three and four as well as “buckshot and beer” in line thirteen.
Juxtaposition is an interesting device that’s seen quite clearly in this poem. It occurs when the poet places two contrasting words, ideas, or phrases next to one another. For example, at the end of the poem when the poet uses the lines: “Break your head with a hatchet. / Plant tulips in the rain.” These two suggestions couldn’t be more different. One is violent and hyperbolic while the other is calm and beneficial to the world.
Imagery is an important literary device that’s used quite well in Bukowski’s poem. His use of unusual phrases and suggestions works to create interesting images of life and action. From blue shoes to playing violin underwater, his images are not soon to be forgotten.
Analysis of Friendly advice to a lot of young men
Go to Tibet.
Ride a camel.
Marry a woman with one leg and shave with a straight razor.
And carve your name in her arm.
In the first lines of ‘Friendly advice to a lot of young men,’ the speaker begins by making a series of very short, three-word statements directed at “young men.” These are his first pieces of advice. They strike the reader without a single line of a preamble. This is part of the hook that pulls the reader into the poem and makes them want to keep reading and learn more. The lines read like commands, ones that most people will likely be interested in. They suggest adventure, excitement, and experience, all things that most young men (not to mention women) want out of life.
Bukowski directs this poem at men, something that’s not unusual in his work. This is a feature of the poem that interesting to take into consideration, especially if one considers what advice he might have for women. The suggestions in this poem are on the whole strange, exciting, violent, and sometimes dangerous. It’s unlikely that Bukowski saw these things as appealing to women.
He goes on to tell the male readers of his poem to strike out, dye their shoes blue, “Circle the world in a paper canoe,” and carve their names in the arm of the woman they marry. This is the first example of a violent suggestion, and one against someone other than the intended male listener. Most of the lines in this poem are outrageous and hyperbolic in some way so it’s unlikely that Bukowski was truly suggesting that men should assault the women in their lives. It is more likely that he was looking for a shocked reaction and to add to the overall tone of risk-taking that this poem has.
Brush your teeth with gasoline.
Sleep all day and climb trees at night.
Break your head with a hatchet.
Plant tulips in the rain.
But don’t write poetry.
In the next lines of ‘Friendly advice to a lot of young men,’ the speaker tells the young men to brush their teeth with gasoline, kill their dog, run for Mayor, and break their heads with a hatchet. Once again, these things are shocking, surprising (although perhaps less so now), and very likely not real advice for someone seeking adventure. Rather than really telling young men to do these things, he’s trying to create a particular mood, one that inspires readers to break their own barriers and have as many different experiences in life as possible.
It’s at the end of the poem that the poet appears to bring in a bit of his own life. He uses the line “But don’t write poetry.” Suddenly, it appears that every line preceding this one were all leading up to this point. He’s been telling men to do anything in their lives, from the deadly to the absurd, but just don’t write poetry. While it’s impossible to know exactly what Bukowski was thinking when he wrote this line, it is easy to assume that he found poetry to be something incredibly taxing, emotionally difficult, and stressful. These are not feelings that come across in any of the other lines of the poem. Perhaps, he struggled with his own desire to write poetry and half-heartedly (or sarcastically) chose to warn others away from the same path.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Friendly advice to a lot of young men’ should also consider reading some of Bukowski’s other poems. For example:
- ‘Bluebird’— depicts the speaker’s relationship with his own emotions. He admits to himself that he can’t always be strong or make clever decisions. This piece is an interesting contrast to ‘Friendly advice to a lot of young men.’
- ‘Alone with Everybody’— expresses feelings commonly experienced when one is alone, including the thought that life is meaningless and beliefs in one’s own vanity.
- ‘The Laughing Heart’— informs readers that they need to take control of their lives and stop letting others “club” the joy out of it.