Charles Bukowski Selected Poems
An Analysis of the Use of Tone in “Alone with Everybody”
Charles Bukowski’s poem “Alone with Everybody” was written in the mid-1970s, and it was first published in a poetry collection titled Love Is a Dog from Hell in 1977. Bukowski is a German-born American author who is known for his ability to convey feelings of utter despair in his writing, and he does not fall short in creating a tone which transitions from disinterested to disgruntled in this poem. “Alone With Everybody” details the emotions of an isolated individual in contemplation of the significance of life. Bukowski explores the complex inner workings of an existential crisis with his readers in “Alone With Everybody” through the use of dramatic tone change in his stream of consciousness style of writing.
The poem begins with the speaker mulling over the idea of creation and the significance of the human form, but Bukowski’s word choice leads readers to assume a sense of indifference rather than awe in regards to these subjects. The flow of the first stanza is very slow and droning, and it seems to mimic a sort of emotionlessness in the poet’s thought process. Bukowski uses the word “and” seven times in the first stanza of the poem, mimicking a feeling of repetitiousness that he senses in life. Bukowski describes the complexity of life in an over-simplified manner: the flesh covers the bone and they put a mind in there and sometimes a soul. (97) His simplistic style and passivity on the subject is striking in flatness, and the wording is very impersonal and cold. “The flesh” and “the bone” creates a sense of distance between the poet and the human form, and the distance further emphasizes the feelings of isolation and alienation of the poet. To further emphasize the impersonal quality of the poem, Bukowski, rather than directly addressing a creator or naming a god, chooses to use the pronoun “they,” and this adds to the vague and passive quality of the first stanza. The first lines bring about an understanding of the poet’s peculiar state of mind and set a dull tone.
Indeed, the first stanza continues to explicate the monotony and pointlessness of life through the eyes of the poet as he further delves into his thoughts on the purpose of existence. After initial contemplation of creation and the human form, Bukowski writes on love and relationships: and the women break vases against the walls and the men drink too much and nobody finds the one but keep looking crawling in and out of beds. (97) The poet presents a love life as impersonally as he does creation, and he adheres to the monotonous tone with which he began the poem. The repetitiveness with which Bukowski presents the idea of love leaves the impression of a person simply going through the motions of life. Bukowski’s interpretation of love is atypical in its form, because, rather than expressing a normal emotion such as happiness or sadness, the poet creates a feeling of complete emptiness and exhaustion when it comes to love. Bukowski continues, flesh covers the bone and the flesh searches for more than flesh. (97) The poet further expands on the notion of merely going through the motions of life and longing for a greater purpose to no avail with the employment of the word “searches” in the poem. The poet makes it seem as though love is lost, and he is on an endless and hopeless search for it.
In addition to the emotionless treatment of the subject of love, the poem also treats love ambiguously. While the poet hints towards wishing to find something more meaningful in life, he also asserts the pointlessness in doing so by saying that “nobody finds the one.” As the poem progresses into the second stanza, there is a shift toward a more hopeless tone. Bukowski conveys the mindset of a person that no longer cares. The poet contemplates life and love, but he finds both to be trivial. After life and love, the poet does not know where to turn. If he is just going through the motions of life, then what happens when he runs out of motions? Bukowski wishes for readers to understand the inner struggle of a person that has grown tired of going through the same motions over and over again. Bukowski writes, there’s no chance at all: we are all trapped by a singular fate. (97) Bukowski relays an understanding of a person that is struggling to find purpose in life. The poet reaches the conclusion that there is no purpose in life if death is all that awaits him.
The poet’s contemplation of mortality is what pushes him towards a more pessimistic mindset in the work. He is tired of going through the motions when they are entirely futile in the end. The poet continues the trend of complete hopelessness throughout the duration of the poem. Bukowski writes, the city dumps fill the junkyards fill the madhouses fill the hospitals fill the graveyards fill nothing else fills. (97) Returning to the same style of symbolism as employed earlier in the poem, the poet uses the word “fill” six times in order to adequately mimic the monotony of life. The monotony that the poet is speaking to in the end of the poem is on a much larger scale than at the beginning of the poem. Rather than simply stating that his life has no purpose, he is expounding on the idea that all lives have no purpose. Bukowski concludes that there is proof of human life in the world, but, in the end, it is all meaningless.
“Alone With Everybody” explores the mind of a person struggling with an existential crisis. Through the use of stream of consciousness writing, Bukowski conveys the thought process behind giving up. Bukowski alters the tone of his poem in order for readers to more fully understand the transition of emotions felt when the subject matter of the poem changes; however, he also maintains a constant element of pessimism. In the end, Bukowski’s real message of the poem is this: Do not try.
Work Cited Bukowski, Charles. “Alone With Everybody.” Love Is a Dog from Hell. New: HarperCollins, 1977. 97. Print.