‘The Crunch’ is a moving poem filled with memorable descriptions of society’s lost men and women and our treatment of one another.
The version of ‘The Crunch’ used in this analysis was published in the Second Coming, Vol. 5 No.1 in 1977. It is one of three published versions of the poem that range in length and content. This particular version is the longest and the most commonly cited.
Explore The Crunch
Throughout the poem, the speaker emphasizes the brutal nature of contemporary life and the clear fact at the heart of it–people aren’t good to one another. They don’t know about and don’t acknowledge their own or other’s loneliness. There are men and women out in the world who will do anything to feel close to another person all because the simple kindnesses in society have vanished. He runs through some of the solutions that people turn to when they find themselves lost and without the life, they wanted and tells the reader that none of these are going to help in the end. It’s all about changing the way that people treat one another on the most basic level.
You can read the full poem ‘The Crunch’ here.
Bukowski engages with themes of love, sex, and solitude throughout ‘The Crunch.’ These, among a few others, are used to define what contemporary society is like and what people like the old men and women from the first part of the poem deal with. It’s love and connection that people desire but solitude that they have to contend with on a daily basis. These two things are at the root of the primary driver of the poem—the way one on one interactions play out and the lack of kindness and human decency that “we” show one another.
Structure and Form
‘The Crunch’ by Charles Bukowski is a ninety-two line poem that is separated out into stanzas of varying lengths. The poem does not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern, meaning that it is written in free verse. Some of the lines are only one word long while others stretch to more than ten words. Bukowski intentionally cuts off lines before their natural conclusion and includes surprisingly violent and sexual words in order to inspire the reader to keep reading. It’s quite easy to move from one line of the poem to the next, something that’s enhanced through Bukowski’s use of punctuation. Throughout the poem, there are only six periods (the first one isn’t used until the fiftieth line) and no commas, colons, or any other kind of punctuation.
- Anaphora: seen through the repetition of words at the beginning of lines. For example, “what we need” begins lines sixty-one through sixty-five.
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. Seen throughout the poem, examples include the transitions between lines one, two, three, and four.
- Imagery: the use of clear and memorable descriptions. For example: “more green-eyed whores who don’t eat your heart / like a vitamin pill.”
- Alliteration: the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words. For example: “buying” and “bargain” in line thirty-two.
or not enough
with a photograph of Marilyn Monroe
many old guys in cheap rooms without
any photographs at all
In the first lines of ‘The Crunch,’ Charles Bukowski’s speaker makes several short statements about society, and how people judge one another. He speaks broadly about there being “too much” and “too little.” There is too much of the wrong thing, he’s implying, and too little of the right. People are lost, he suggests in the next lines, between being too fat and too thin, and constantly judged by those around them.
The lines expand, growing longer and more complex as the poem continues. The speaker brings in striking images of men and women, who desperately lonely, do anything they can to relieve their grief. It’s these same people, lost in the complications of society, who are running through “streets” and seeking out “virgins” to have sex with. Bukowski uses brutal language to describe this sexual act with words like “bayoneting” and “fucking.”
These are not kind encounters based around love, but those of a desperate man, not dissimilar to the “old guy” in the following lines. The latter sits alone in a room “with a photograph of Marilyn Monroe,” without company and with that photograph as his only solace. While his predicament might seem desperate, the speaker also mentions another metaphorical man who’s in the same situation but is without a photograph.
many old women rubbing rosaries
when they’d prefer to be rubbing cocks
in Vegas, in Baltimore, in Munich
Bukowski takes the time in the following lines to describe women as well. They too experience the same loneliness and desire for human affection. His language is just as direct and sex-fueled as that in the previous lines. This is a marker of his verse, something that readers are likely familiar with if they’ve read any of Bukowski’s other poems. His speakers are always brutally honest with the reader.
In the following lines, he uses anaphora, and more generally repetition, to emphasize the “loneliness” he sees in the world. He repeats the line “there is a loneliness” twice, making sure that the reader understands that all these actions stem from the effects of solitude.
Bukowski’s speaker sees the world through the lens of someone who experienced this loneliness for himself. He knows when he looks at the “neon signs” around the world, in cities like Munich and Vegas, that they filled with it. They advertise sex, bars, clubs, casinos, and more, all places and diversions aimed at those who don’t have something more genuine to occupy their time.
there are people so tired
so mutilated by love or no
rubbers with corkscrew stems
watches that give you the date
people are not good to each other
one on one.
The next lines again emphasize the nature of “people,” those who seek out prostitutes, neon lights, and stay in the same cheap rooms as the “old guy” from line 18. They are “so tired,” the speaker says, and so “mutilated by love or no / love” that the smallest acts are victories. Life is narrowed down to simple things that bring them some joy because the broader more genuinely joyous emotions, like love, companionship, and peace are out of their reach.
The following lines bring together what some people would consider to be solutions to the above problem. The “loneliness” and the exhaustion are not symptoms that can be cured by better governments or new beds, or coke, “water pipes,” or “watches that give you the date.” Possessions, better sex, new rules—none of it, Bukowski’s speaker says, makes a difference. What would, he adds, is if people were “good to each other.” Because right now, he implies, they are not. “One on one” interactions in which one human being reaches out in kindness to another is what’s lacking from the world.
Lines 51- 70
Marx be damned
the sin is not the totality of certain systems.
more green-eyed whores who don’t eat your heart
like a vitamin pill
Bukowski alludes to Karl Marx, the father of communism, in line fifty-one of ‘The Crunch,’ something that relates back to the unnecessary new systems of government in the previous lines. He damns Marx, and then God in the next lines. In this way, he casts off systems of control, religion, and government, and demands that the reader listens to the truth. The “sin” at the heart of society is not “the killing of God,” meaning, the loss of morality and the structure of religion. It’s much simpler than that. It’s the fact that “people are just not good to each other.”
Bukowski again uses anaphora in the next lines, repeating the words “we think” and then “what we need are less” in the ones that come after. He makes these statements and allows them to pile up on top of one another. We, meaning society, are troubled because we think “hatred means strength” and that “New York City is the greatest / city in America.” With these things as our compass, no wonder society has gone wrong.
He asserts his belief that the world would be a better place if there were fewer people like the poet himself, the preacher Billy Graham, “less instruction,” “less brilliance,” and more. Instead, what the world needs more of are the simple and genuine things. We need more “green-eyed whores who don’t eat your heart / like a vitamin pill.” This suggestion, and the others he adds on to it, which include “beer,” might make the reader consider whether or not this speaker truly has the answers he’s looking for. He turns to these things, but what makes them different than the issues he brought up in the previous lines? This raises the additional, more troubling question of, what do “we” need more of?
we don’t think about the terror of one person
aching in one place
in and out
under the direction of a senseless moon
and people are not good to each other.
‘The Crunch’ starts to come to its conclusion when Bukowski speaks about “one person.” That is, that one old guy in the hotel, the one lonely old woman, the one person “aching in one place / alone.” The whole (society) and the individual, (“you” the reader or Bukowski the poet), do not think about that “one” person. They, in society’s mind, do not exist. But, as the speaker calls attention to them, he makes them real.
Through the use of repetition in the next lines, in what feels like an obsessive mantra, the poet concludes the poem by again reminding the reader that “people are not good to each other.” They exist in a constant state of negligence in regard to one another’s issues. By adding several clauses to this, he creates a few final images of disregard and the disintegration of the simple things.
Time rolls on, he ends, with the tide going in and out, and people are not good to each other. This suggests that things are going to change anytime soon. This is how people are, and just as the tide is rolling under the command of a “senseless moon” so too are human beings going to act senselessly to one another until some more powerful force or desire changes that.
Readers who enjoyed ‘The Crunch’ should also consider reading some of Charles Bukowski’s other poems. For example:
- ‘Love & Fame & Death’ —a complex poem that speaks on the lack of power that fame and death truly have in life.
- ‘Bluebird’— depicts the speaker’s relationship to his own emotions and his confession that he can’t always be his best self.
- ‘The Laughing Heart’ —urges the reader to take control of their life and seize every opportunity to make the most of it.