‘no help for that’ by Charles Bukowski explores the notion that achievements are never enough to completely make one happy. There is a space in Bukowski’s heart that can never be filled. Initially, it may seem that Bukowski is discussing love and the lack of true love. However, the idea that he ‘wait[s]/ in that space’ links with the contextual information that Bukowski notoriously urges people to wait for their destiny, not to force anything. Indeed, on his gravestone were the words “Don’t Try”. Bukowski is relating to the feeling of achievement, and how no matter the achievement there is always something that comes next. He argues that why would we continue fighting for more when we can live in this in-between state, appreciating not having everything in order not to try.
As you can see from my rather lengthy introduction, ‘no help for that’ by Charles Bukowski is a complex poem. It can be argued to be about love or the impossibility of achievement. Although both are valid, I prefer the second reading as it aligns with Bukowski’s own personal opinions. He examines moments of achievement, those ‘best moments’ in which you are having the ‘greatest time’. Yet, there is always something that can top that achievement, always something that comes next. Bukowski urges the reader to stop always wanting more and more, instead be content with living ‘in that space’. You will never be full, there will always be a hole, but you must learn to live with that. Bukowski is notoriously bleak, with this poem being no different, the poet essentially telling the reader to stop trying so hard in life as the journey is endless anyway.
You can read the full poem here.
The structure of this poem reflects the subject matter greatly, the enforced metrical breaks from the odd stanza division quite literally symbolizing a ‘space’, the blank page reflecting the ideas of the poem. The space that Bukowski cannot fill is represented through these gaps in the poem, his longing heart reflected in the large blank spaces. The lack of capital letters within the poem furthers the tone of sorrow, the quiet stance of the individual words contributing to the somber atmosphere.
One technique that Bukowski employs within the poem is the use of enjambment. By allowing the poem to flow interrupted, Bukowski construes two ideas. The first, relating to his apathetic ‘do nothing’ attitude, suggests that life continues to flow no matter what you do – the continuous metrical rhythm symbolizing Bukoswiski’s opinions of life. Bukowski’s enjambed lines could also reflect the emotional change within the poem, the poet flitting between different emotions and ideas with ease. By using enjambment, he allows these emotions to flow into each other, blending them – much like the argument that the ‘greatest times’ can quickly change into sorrow.
no help for that Analysis
there is a place in the heart that
‘no help for that’ begins with explaining his internal struggle, ‘there is a place in the heart that/will never be filled’. The use of the abstract ‘place’ suggests that Bukowski himself does not know exactly where this location is. The nonconforming location reflects his uncertainty, the melancholic poet unsure how to make himself feel ‘full’. The enjambment across these lines could reflect his search for the location, the internal movement implied by the flowing from one line to the next.
The certainty of ‘will never’, employing the future tense, suggests that Bukowski truly believes he will never be completely happy. There is no doubt, or conditionality, about it – he simply ‘will never’ find this ‘place’. The reader can understand filling this ‘place’ in his heart as a representation of finding happiness, or being completely content. The inability to totally satisfy the ‘heart’ implies that Bukowski will never be happy.
The spatial separation of ’a space’ reflects the hole in Bukowski’s heart, both literally suggesting a ‘space’, and being distanced from the other words in the poem to further this notion.
From lines 4-8, Bukowski explores moments of elation, reflecting on experiences that have made him happy. There is a sense of distance within the poem, with Bukowski not entirely displaying exact details. Instead, we get far off, abstract comments. Here, ‘best moments’ and ‘greatest times’ are just general notions, not expanded upon by Bukowski. In doing this, the poet allows for anyone to apply their own ‘best moments’, achievements, and ‘greatest times’ to the poem, continuing the universal commentary on humanity Bukowski is trying to emulate. He is not talking about himself, but rather ‘we’, humanity as a whole.
we will know it
in that space.
The use of ‘we’, as stated above, collects all humanity under one umbrella pronoun, presenting this as a species depiction, rather than Bukowski’s individual thoughts. This could explain why the poet tends to only use abstract, non-specific nouns, such as ‘space’ and ‘place’. The ‘we’ pronoun is repeated many times throughout the rest of ‘no help for that’, Bukowski using repetition to emphasize this notion of togetherness. There is a certain inescapability within Bukowski’s writing, the poet drawing the reader into the ‘we will know’, emphasizing the certainty of eventually sorrow and disappointment.
Bukowski repeats the initial idea of ‘no help for that’, ‘there is a place in the heart that will never be filled’. The use of ‘heart’ relates to the personal nature of the poem, the symbol being quite literally at the core of human life. Moreover, it also represents love, furthering the romantic reading of the poem. Either in achievement or love, Bukowski has a very pessimistic perspective.
The repetition of ‘wait’ stresses how humanity will always be lingering, wanting to ‘fill’ their life further and further. Yet, Bukowski argues that this moment will never come. Humanity will forever be ‘wait[ing] for their soul to be completed, their life to be fulfilled.
Bukowski suggests that life is just ‘wait[ing], lurking in that unfulfilled space, always moving from goal to goal. Life is seemingly not enough for the poet, his melancholic verse drawing the reader into his pessimism.