Love & Fame & Death by Charles Bukowski

Love & Fame & Death’ by Charles Bukowski is a short, complex poem that speaks on the power, or lack thereof, that love, fame and death have in life. 

As with much of Bukowski’s work, this poem is multifaceted. There is a great deal one can intuit from the subtext, and a few varying interpretations one might want to consider. The “it” referenced in the poem will mean something different to each reader, and that is likely what Bukowski intended. With the broad title, ‘Love & Fame & Death,’ he provides the reader with some hint about what “it” might be, but still, it is very much up to one’s own personal reading of the poem. 

In the first lines, the speaker describes looking out his window and watching “it” watch him. This “it” is not defined, but it is likely one of the three forces, or all three, cited in the title. After a period of time, he scares “it” off and sends it screaming away, with the swat of a newspaper. The last lines explain to the reader the correct way to “end a poem like this”. 

Love & Fame & Death by Charles Bukowski

 

Poetic Techniques in Love & Fame & Death

Love & Fame & Death’ by Charles Bukowski is a fifteen line poem that is divided into two stanzas. One of eleven lines, and one of four, known as a quatrain. There is no specific rhyme scheme, but Bukowski does make use of perfect, half-rhymes, and internal rhymes. The former, perfect or full rhyme, can be seen at the ends of lines three, four, and six, with the words “me,” “nervously” and “suddenly”. 

Internal rhyme is a kind of rhyme that is not constrained to the end of the lines but can appear anywhere. For example, “fog” and “dog” in the fifth line. 

The former, half (also known as slant or partial) rhyme is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line or multiple lines of verse. For instance, consonance is utilized in the first stanza, throughout lines three and four, with the repetition of the letter “t”. It appears in “sweats,” “sits,” and “watches”. 

 

Other Poetic Techniques 

Bukowski also makes use of a number of other poetic techniques. These include enjambment, anaphora, repetition, and alliteration. 

Repetition is seen through the general use and reuse of words, or specific formatting. In this case, the word “sit” is used multiple times in the first lines. Anaphora is another kind of repetition, one that occurs at the beginning of sentences. It is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. For example, the use of “it” at the start of lines one, three, and four. 

Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. Words beginning with, or prominently including, the letter, or sound of the letter, “s” is repeated in the first stanza of ‘Love & Fame & Death’. These include “sits,” “outside,” “sits” (again), and “sweats”. 

Another important technique that is commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point.  It forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. In ‘Love & Fame & Death’ enjambment is one of the most prominent techniques. Almost every line is enjambed, changing the speed at which the reader moves through the text. A few moments are more impactful than others. The last stanza specifically is a successful example of how enjambment can be used. 

You can read the full poem Love & Fame & Death here.

 

Analysis of Love & Fame & Death

Stanza One 

Lines 1-2 

it sits outside my window now
like and old woman going to market;

In the first stanza of ‘Love & Fame & Death,’ the poet begins without using a capital letter. This is a technique Bukowski makes use of throughout the poem. There are no capital letters, nor are there any instances of end-line punctuation until the ends of the two stanzas. This technique was utilized in tandem with enjambment in order to control the speed at which a reader moves through the poem. The lack of capital letters makes the text feel informal, or as if these are fleeting thoughts moving through the speaker’s head. 

On the surface, ‘Love & Fame & Death’ details a very specific moment in a speaker’s day. When examined closely though, the underlying meaning makes the text in its entirety more expansive. In the first lines, the speaker refers to “it”. This unknown object, person, animal or force sits “outside [his] window now”. With the word, “now” Bukowski brings the poem into a reader’s contemporary moment. No matter when they’re reading it, “it” is sitting outside the window at that instant. 

He goes on, comparing “it,” through simile, to an “old woman going to market”. This simile is an interesting one. On the outside, “it” appears simple. But it has a task and an age to it. There is a purpose to its presence there. 

 

Lines 3-5

it sits and watches me,
(…)
through wire and fog and dog—bark

Another line begins with the word “it”, reinforcing this unknown being’s importance in the poem. He describes it as watching him, as he watches it, through the window. The speaker sees it “sweat…nervously”. He can see “it” on the other side of a wire fence, fog, and through”dog-bark”. All three of these things paint something of a dreary scene. The wire and the dog speak to protection or defense, and the fog to obfuscation and perhaps disorientation. 

It is important to note at this point that Bukowski never informs the reader what exactly “it” is. But, if one considers the title, it might become a little clearer. He named this piece ‘Love & Fame & Death’. These three things can be or are life-consuming states, and it could be anyone, or more likely all three in different iterations, that sits outside his window. In their own ways, they are dangerous. Death to some is welcome but to more, it’s feared. Love is usually considered a positive, but its danger is unavoidable. Fame is perhaps the clearest of the three. It is at once to be desired and despised. Once one has it, its fickle nature and fleeting joys can consume and transform the one who experiences them. 

 

Lines 6-11 

until suddenly
(…)
and then it left.

In the next lines of ‘Love & Fame & Death,’ the speaker goes on to describe what he does to scare off “it” sitting outside his window. He treats it as one would a fly, and metaphorically “slam[s] the screen with a newspaper”. The speaker scares off “it”, whether it be fame, love, death, or a combination of all three, and it leaves screaming. The sound echoed around the “plain city”. He adds that everyone could hear it, it was so loud and present. This speaks to a common understanding of these three forces and a (semi) universal consideration of them. 

 

Stanza Two 

the way to end a poem
(…)
quiet.

The last lines of ‘Love & Fame & Death,’ are a poignant example of how enjambment can be used effectively. The first eleven lines of ‘Love & Fame & Death’ were complex, multilayered, and still very much up for interpretation. In the final four lines, Bukowski considers how to end a poem that delves into such heavy subject matter. In the end, he wrote about his own thought process as the ending. He determines that “the way to end a poem / like this” is to “become suddenly / quiet.” With the last line and word “quiet”, the poem is over. The space at the bottom of the page necessarily represents this silence and the emptiness that comes after. 

At the same time, the “quiet” connects back to the screaming in the first stanza. After “it left”, and the screaming was over, there was only silence. The speaker’s watcher was gone, the pressure relieved and now, he can slip away quietly. 

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