The Laughing Heart by Charles Bukowski urges the reader to take control of their own life, seizing opportunities and making the most of time. There is a general idea that life is boring or pointless, unless someone actively tries to change it.
Bukowski’s writing is often known for being realistic, depressing and blunt, always getting straight to the point of the matter and not aiming to please. The Laughing Heart is no different, telling people that they must stop letting others ‘club’ the joy out of life and take control of their own success and happiness. He argues that once you begin to show up for your own life, ‘marvellous’ thing will begin to happen to you.
The Laughing Heart by Charles Bukowski is written as one stanza, measuring 20 lines. Bukowski purposely avoids a rhyme scheme and many poetic techniques which lend themselves to making poetry more enjoyable to read, such as assonance and consonance. Instead, Bukowski’s writing is straight to the point, compounding the message of the poem which urges the reader to stop letting others control their happiness and take some accountability for their own life.
You can read the poem here.
Bukowski is selective in the techniques he employs during the poem. One that stands out is towards the end of the poem, his use of enjambment directly contrasting to much of the rest of the poem. In suddenly changing his typical form and implying enjambment, Bukowski places emphasis on this moment, allowing the final resolution of the The Laughing Heart to be more pertinent.
Another technique Bukowski employs is a frequent use of end-stop and caesura. In doing this, the poem becomes fragmented and stunted, the many short sentences helping to build Bukowski’s blunt and unforgiving style.
The Laughing Heart Analysis
The poem begins without a capital letter, instantly altering the reader as Bukowski using techniques to emphasise the beginning of the poem. In this case, by using the uncapitalised ‘your’, any sense of grandeur or pretentiousness that sometimes is attached to poetry is instantly dispelled. Bukowski is not trying to impress with beautiful or lyrical lines, instead just seeking to send a clear message. That message, ‘your life is your life’ rings throughout the poem, this idea being the central concept that Bukowski is trying to argue.
The idea of passivity insinuates by ‘don’t let’ shows that Bukowski is aiming this poem at someone who often allows others to dictate their path in life. The possessive pronoun that Bukowski associates with life, it always being ‘your life’ shows that this is the opposite of what the poet wants. Here, he is pointing out a classic symptom of allowing people to control one’s life, and showing how it is something to be avoided.
Following the idea of passivity in ownership of one’s own life, Bukowski employs a sense of violence, a life being ‘clubbed into dank submission’. The word ‘submission’ directly relates to the earlier idea constructed by Bukowski, the insinuation connecting with his idea of passivity. Bukowski urges the reader to take control of their own life, the first few lines setting up his argument.
This continues with the imperative command on the third line, ‘be on the watch’ directing the reader to be alert and ready to change their lives. In these lines, Bukowski is first constructing his argument, and then suggesting that ‘there are ways out’.
The insinuation of ‘light’ connects to happiness, with Bukowski suggesting that enjoyment of life (represented by ‘light’) ‘beats the darkness’, showing how fighting for your own happiness in life beats just letting life pass you by. Again both touching upon, and rallying against this idea of passivity.
Bukowski even injects a sense of grandeur within these lines, suggesting that if one takes control of they own life, ‘the gods will offer you chances’, you just need to be ready to accept them.
By using the plural version of ‘chance’ and ‘ways out’, Bukowski is suggesting that there are many ways that someone could change their own life, you just have to be ready and willing to do so. The double repetition, both being incredibly short lines, ‘know them / take them’ reflects Bukowski’s straight to the point attitude, compounding all the information he has argued so far into two short lines. He argues that we have to take control of our lives, know what a new opportunity looks like, take it when you can.
The repetition, with slight deviation, across the lines ‘you can’t beat death but / you can beat death in life’ structurally and syntactically reflect the idea that life only changes for those who take advantage of opportunities. The repetition between the two lines shows a similar life path, with only the second example of this line showing the initiative to change, shown through the addition of ‘in life’. The focus on ‘life’ here reflects Bukowski’s opinion that life is not worth living if one isn’t fighting for a happier life.
At this point in The Laughing Heart, Bukowski returns to the idea of ‘light’, collocating ‘light’ and ‘life’ in order to show the positive impact of someone that takes their life into their own hands.
He here repeats the straight to the point message of the poem, ‘your life is your life’, the subtle repetition furthering the sense of Bukowski really wanting to drill this message into the reader. At every possible opportunity, Bukowski is urging the reader to change their lives, take responsibility and take action to improve.
The final lines in the poem employ two consecutive lines of enjambment, without any disruptive uses of caesura, to ensure that the ultimate message of the poem is emphasised greatly here. These structural techniques, or lack of, allow the meter of the poem to continue uninterrupted, with Bukowski allowing the poem to flow freely until the final two words of the poem.
Mirroing the central message of the poem, Bukowski constructs the poem to flow directly to this point, the final lines focusing ‘in you’. The emphasis placed on ‘you’ echo’s Bukowski’s central message in writing the poem, he wants the reader to focus on themselves, focus on ‘you’, taking control of your own life in order to improve it. The short length of the final line, only measuring two words, furthers this sense of clarity, with Bukowski’s message ringing clear – it is only you that can take measures to change your life.