“8 Count”, Charles Bukowski

“from my bed
I watch
3 birds
on a telephone
wire.
one flies
off.
then
another.
one is left,
then
it too
is gone.
my typewriter is
tombstone
still.
and I am
reduced to bird
watching.
just thought I’d
let you
know,
fucker.”

Charles Bukowski

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I find Bukowski’s poems very honest. They never seem like they are trying too hard or concealing some hidden meaning like other poetry. They say what they mean and have no quips with it.

This poem seems to be addressing whoever is causing Bukowski’s writer’s block, and Bukowski is clearly not happy with them. They have killed off all of his ideas, leaving his typewriter tombstone-still. The only thing left for him to do is look out the window at the birds sitting on the telephone line and watch them fly away.

One of the patterns that really seems to highlight Bukowski’s irritation with the cause of his writer’s block is the emphasis on Bukowski’s solitude. Any numbers that are over one in the poem, such as 8 in the title and the 3 birds sitting on the wire, are left as single digits. All other reference to number, such as “one” or “I” is written out. This shows that any numbers greater than one are not very important.

One oddity of the poem is its title. Why is the poem called 8 count when there are only 3 birds? Snooping around on google I found two options. First is the biblical interpretation of the number eight, which stands for ressurection, which I doubt is the interpretation Bukowski was aiming for because he was an athiest. The other option is dance. Dances are usually counted in eight beats, which would insinuate that this poem is a song for a dance.

But why all this irony? The entire poem is about writer’s block. If he has writers block, why is he writing this poem, and why is he connotating that it is a song?

Perhaps he’s trying to get across that sometimes you don’t need to feel inspired by some great piece of wisdom to write poetry. Poetry is made up of everyday occurances and feelings. They don’t need to be grand and high and mighty to be great, they just need to have some sort of essence of humanity within them.

“War is Kind” by Stephen Crane

civil20war20battle1

I
Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind.
Because your lover threw wild hands toward the sky
And the affrighted steed ran on alone,
Do not weep.
War is kind.
Hoarse, booming drums of the regiment,
Little souls who thirst for fight,
These men were born to drill and die.
The unexplained glory flies above them,
Great is the battle-god, great, and his kingdom —
A field where a thousand corpses lie.
Do not weep, babe, for war is kind.
Because your father tumbled in the yellow trenches,
Raged at his breast, gulped and died,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

Swift blazing flag of the regiment,
Eagle with crest of red and gold,
These men were born to drill and die.
Point for them the virtue of slaughter,
Make plain to them the excellence of killing
And a field where a thousand corpses lie.
Mother whose heart hung humble as a button
On the bright splendid shroud of your son,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

III
To the maiden
The sea was blue meadow,
Alive with little froth-people
Singing.
To the sailor, wrecked,
The sea was dead grey walls
Superlative in vacancy,
Upon which nevertheless at fateful time
Was written
The grim hatred of nature.

XVI
There was a man with tongue of wood
Who essayed to sing,
And in truth it was lamentable.
But there was one who heard
The clip-clapper of this tongue of wood
And knew what the man
Wished to sing,
And with that the singer was content.

XXI
A man said to the universe:
“Sir I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”

The first section of this poem begins by telling a maiden not to weep over her lover dying because war is kind. The drums book and the men prepare for battle, ruled by the battle-god. A babe is told not to weep for his dead father in the trenches for war is kind. The second stanza has the flag flying over the regiment and talks about how great war really is. A mother is told not to weep for her dead son because war is kind.

One oddity is the order of the maiden, the babe, and the mother. Why are they put in this order? They are not chronological in any way. The first two are chonological in terms of the relationship of the male to the female figure being told not to weep. The lover goes with the maiden and the father with the babe, two relationships chronologically in order.

Another interesting difference of these two male figures with the male in the second stanza is the desription of how the man dies. It is designated how the first two die, but there is no mention of the son’s actual death, just the aftermath and his “bright splendid shroud”. The son is not painted having a forward moving life to come home to- a woman to marry or a child to rear, but only his mother.

Another way to look at the tone would  be to take a more literal approach which can be done by looking at the deaths of the two soldiers in the first stanza. The lover throws his hands up to the sky in defeat. The father “tumbles in the yellow trenches, rages at his breast, gulps, and dies”. These are both deaths of cowards. The lover gives in in the end and throws up his hands, a sign of surrender. The father dies hiding in the trenches which are yellow, a color symbolic of being a coward. Perhaps Crane is intonating that war rids the world of foolish people whose sole purpose is to “drill and die”.  But what of the son? What is his sin? If examine din the lense of Plato’s Republic, it becomes apparent that just as civilization degredes as time goes on, so does its citizens. Each change in governent is brought about by a son of a man from the next highest level. Following this patter, shouldn’t the son of any man sucha s those presented in the first stanza be just as bad, if not worse than his father?

One of the most obvious changes is the difference in tone between the first and second stanzas. Slthough they are both sarcastic, the first is a bit darke rand more seroius in tis word usage with terms such as “wild”, “affrighted”, “hoarse”, “thirst”, “booming”, and “raged”. Although Crane says that war is kind and sets the soldiers “thirsting” for battle, the vocabulary sets an underlying tone of the realities of war. The sarcasm becomes more biting in the second as the word choices become much more gradiose and picturesque, such as “swift blazing”, “eagle”, “red and gold”, “virtue”, “excellence”,  and “bright splendid”. This is the more commercialized painting of war and the side more utilized to fuel support. This is the view of war seen as “liberating” and “noble”- generally the type of view the government uses to rally support. To be involved in a war feels neither liberating a noble once you’re there, but those unable to see it may be coerced to believe it.

This idea ties in with part three. Part three paints two very juxtaposed visions of the sea. The maiden sees it as a blue, lively meadow full of “froth-people”. The sailor views it as dead, gray walls, completely vacant of company and life. This reflects the exact same point. The sailor, who is emerged in his work and job, is alone with it long enough to discover the truth passed what people generally romanticize. The maiden, on the other hand, is detached enough to take the full brunt of the idealism. She loves nature and the spirit of the sea because she can go hide away nice and safe when the ocean rears its ugly head. The sailer, on the other hrarnd, must brave it all the time.

Part sixteen is about a man with a wooden tongue who tries to sing, but it sounds pathetic. However, another man understands what the other is trying to sing, and the man with the wooden tongue is content. This poem is about finding the one who shares the same view as you and is able to understand your emotions and ideas even passed your outer disabilities and limitaitons like a wooden tongue. Life is all about finding someone who understands the song of a man with a wooden tongue or someone who gets why the ocean is like gray walls. That is what makes human communication essential, the need to not feel so completely alone, to pass on the struggles and realities of war and life on a deeper level than is generally betrayed.

The last selection I looked at, section twenty one, is the final portrait of the human relationship with society and the world around it. A man tells the universe that he exists, but the universe, who is male, does not seem to feel at all concerned or obligued to do anything about it. This is the quiet reminder at the end of how infinitely small humans are in the cope of things. Even though a person can find company within society, his real father, the universe, really wants nothing to do with him. The male voice of the universe could imply either a father role or a connection to the male figure in the first section of the poem. But is the universe parallel to one of the figures or the war god? The god role seems to make sense, creating a picture of a violent, uncaring god who is hungry for war and does not care so miuch of the fate of the individuals. Although following the trend of two different views of everything perhaps the male figures were actually uncaring cowards two

“Idea of Order at Key West” by Wallace Stevens

girl on beach

"She sang beyond the genius of the sea.
The water never formed to mind or voice,
Like a body wholly body, fluttering
Its empty sleeves; and yet its mimic motion
Made constant cry, caused constantly a cry,
That was not ours although we understood,
Inhuman, of the veritable ocean.

The sea was not a mask.  No more was she.
The song and water were not medleyed sound
Even if what she sang was what she heard.
Since what she sang was uttered word by word.
It may be that in all her phrases stirred
The grinding water and the gasping wind;
But it was she and not the sea we heard.

For she was the maker of the song she sang.
The ever-hooded, tragic-gestured sea
Was merely a place by which she walked to sing.
Whose spirit is this?  we said, because we knew
It was the spirit that we sought and knew
That we should ask this often as she sang.

If it was only the dark voice of the sea
That rose, or even colored by many waves;
If it was only the outer voice of sky
And cloud, of the sunken coral water-walled,
However clear, it would have been deep air,
The heaving speech of air, a summer sound
Repeated in a summer without end
And sound alone.  But it was more than that,
More even than her voice, and ours, among
The meaningless plungings of water and the wind,
Theatrical distances, bronze shadows heaped
On high horizons, mountainous atmospheres
Of sky and sea.
It was her voice that made
The sky acutest at its vanishing.
She measured to the hour its solitude.
She was the single artificer of the world
In which she sang.  And when she sang, the sea,
Whatever self it had, became the self
That was her song, for she was the maker.  Then we,
As we beheld her striding there alone,
Knew that there never was a world for her
Except the one she sang and, singing, made.

Ramon Fernandez, tell me, if you know,
Why, when the singing ended and we turned
Toward the town, tell why the glassy lights,
The lights in the fishing boats at anchor there,
As night descended, tilting in the air,
Mastered the night and portioned out the sea,
Fixing emblazoned zones and fiery poles,
Arranging, deepening, enchanting night.

Oh!  Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,
The maker's rage to order words of the sea,
Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred,
And of ourselves and of our origins,
In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds."

The poem, “Idea of Order at Key West” by Wallace Stevens is about a man in Key West listening to a girl singing on the beach and noticing the balance of her voice and the world around her. He wonders what the balance is of things; who is the maker and who is simply the reverberation? When the girl stops singing, Stevens continues to examine what happens to the order.

Most of the comparisons are ordered in trifectas. For instance in the first stanza the ocean mimicked the girl’s song, making its own cry and also causing a constant cry. In the second stanza the girl hears something and sings it. THis singing “stirred the grinding water and gasping wind”. She made the song and the sea was only the place in which she sang it, but there is still the presence of something larger than the sea, the sky, and the voice. The first level always seems to be the most literal and rudimentary, such as the literal presence of the ocean. The girl seems to be the middle level, taking in things from the lower level and combining them to feed the highest level: a combination of human production and a higher power, be it God or science.

The girl is made to be the glue between the lowest level and the highest level. Her voice makes the “sky acustest at its vanishing”, sharpening the line between the sea and sky (or heaven). She is the “single artificer”, or creator, of what’s around her, adopting the sea as her own, however, she has no world except for the one she creates. She is in the middle ground: on an island, a thin sliver of land between the sea and the sky. She is also on Key West, the farthest point south in the US, on the border, the tip of land and sea.

The last two stanzas are after the girl  has stopped singing. The narrator wants to know how it is possible, when it took the girl’s voice to master the ocean, it took only lights to master the night, arranging it into “emblazoned zones”. This illustrates that even though it may not take too much effort to sing a song that drowns out the sound of the ocean or to light a lantern to illuminate the night, there is still that higher elvel which can override both, the un-masterable mystery that cannot be explained, as mentioned in the last stanza.

The maker has such a rage to find order between levels. It has always been the human tendency to try and stitch together the worldy and the divine and put things in order and more understandable, such as in writing and analyzing poetry. Everything must have an order and a meaning to somehow relate to life, it gets rather crazy. The lines between heaven and earth will always be “ghostly demarcations”, hazy lines, filled with only the jammering of humanity trying to find way to talk sense into things that are unexplainable.

“The Writer”

 

“In her room at the prow of the house

Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,

My daughter is writing a story.

 

I pause in the stairwell, hearing

From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys

Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.

 

Young as she is, the stuff

Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:

I wish her a lucky passage.

 

But now it is she who pauses,

As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.

A stillness greatens, in which

 

The whole house seems to be thinking,

And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor

Of strokes, and again is silent.

 

I remember the dazed starling

Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;

How we stole in, lifted a sash

 

And retreated, not to affright it;

And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,

We watched the sleek, wild, dark

 

And iridescent creature

Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove

To the hard floor, or the desk-top,

 

And wait then, humped and bloody,

For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits

Rose when, suddenly sure,

 

It lifted off from a chair-back,

Beating a smooth course for the right window

And clearing the sill of the world.

 

It is always a matter, my darling,

Of life or death, as I had forgotten.  I wish

What I wished you before, but harder.”

-Richard Wilbur

The simple imagery of this poem is really appealing to me. It paints a picture of a young girl shut in a room writing her story as the author recalls the time a starling was caught in the very room. It is not incredibly pretentious, but still spurs many interesting thoughts.

The room is Wilbur’s daughter’s vessel, her ship. It’s at the prow of the house where light breaks like waves and the trees toss outside like the stormy ocean. Just as the house “is” a ship, she is on another metaphorical ship that is traveling through life. As she writes, they sounds of the typewriter clicking are like the chain of an anchor being pulled up, both literally, because of the sound the keys make, and metaphorically. When you write, often thoughts start to arrange themselves better than in normal thought pattern. Connections start to occur, details come into focus, and events play out more coherently than without premeditation. As the girl writes, she begins to depart from some of her naivity and childishness and the chain begins to rise from her ship and she prepares to leave and sail out into the real world. Her “cargo”, although heavy, is slowly starting to become more and more understood and she unravels her life into words on paper.

The parallel of the starling follows the same path as his daughter. When you’re a certain age, your parents have done all they can and all they can do is lift the sash and hope you make it on your own in the real world. The starling was trying so hard to get out of the window that they had to let it free before it ended up killing itself, and even though at first they weren’t certain it would find the way out, it finally flew from the house and into the freedom of the real world.

“When I consider every thing that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment,
That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows
Whereon the stars in secret influence comment;
When I perceive that men as plants increase,
Cheered and checked even by the self-same sky,
Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,
And wear their brave state out of memory;
Then the conceit of this inconstant stay
Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,
Where wasteful Time debateth with Decay
To change your day of youth to sullied night,
And all in war with Time for love of you,
As he takes from you, I engraft you new.”

-Shakespeare

 

What is Shakespeare trying to say?

When you really look at the scope of things, you see that everything that grows only spends a moment in the spotlight, a tiny moment secretly influenced by a greater power. As youth, people are vain and proud, but as they grow older they shrink away from that mindset. Even as Time and Decay war over your posession, everything they take away from you will be renewed by poetry.

This is a really interesting thought that seems to be popping into my life quite frequently lately: the permanence, or rather impermanence of humans. So many little things are valued so much (what you wear, who your friends are, what you do) that often you forget how complete inconsequential everything is. To put it into perspective, I read once somewhere that if you compress the existance of Earth into a year, humans would have only been around for about three minutes. With that in mind, imagine how inconsequential your actions are minute to minute.

It’s the rarity of this brief moment of beauty and levity in the otherwise downward spiral of life (not to sound like a wet blanket or anything…) that makes it exceptionally gorgeous, the fact that Shakespeare embraces in this poem.  He sees that although this moment of perfection is short, it is worth preserving through words that will last as long as humans still communicate with one another.

Shakespeare’s other interesting literary technique is the comparing of humans to plants. Plants and humans, like all mortal things, share a circular aspect of their lifestyle. They both grow to a certain point when they are their most beautiful, in full bloom, then they reproduce, fulfilling their life’s purpose, then slowly shrink away towards death. It is a consistant metaphor throughout the poem, from youth’s “sap” to “engrafting” the beauty from the time into poetry (grafting is a process in which a plant is forced to reproduce asexually by cutting of a younger section, such as a bud, and letting it grow into a plant by its own right).

“The Remains”

 

I empty myself of the names of others. I empty my pockets.
I empty my shoes and leave them beside the road
At night I turn back the clocks;
I open the family album and look at myself as a boy.

What good does it do? The hours have done their job.
I say my own name. I say goodbye.
The words follow each other downwind.
I love my wife but send her away.

My parents rise out of their thrones
into the milky rooms of clouds. How can I sing?
Time tells me what I am. I change and I am the same.
I empty myself of my life and my life remains.”
-Mark Strand

    

In this poem by Mark Strand, the narrator discusses his worldly situation. He forgets the names of people he knows, emptying his pockets then leaving his shoes by the side of the road. At night when it’s easier to make believe, he turns back his clocks and looks at old family albums, trying to pretend that time is not passing by and that he will have control over the passing of hours and days and years. He says his own name and says goodbye, watching them fall away into nothing because they are not material and cannot stand the test of time without something real to hold on to. He loves his wife, but she will not last much longer than he and therefore cannot anchor him to this world very proficiently. His parents have already risen

to heaven. However, he knows that he is defined by time, as is everything else in the world.There is a lot of emptiness in this poem. He empties his head of
people’s names, empties his pockets and his shoes and then in the end
he empties himself of his life, but parts of him still remain. This idea of emptiness with a physical remainder is consistant throughout the entire poem. That seems to be how a lot of things in life are. You cast off clothes and the still remain even if not in the context of being on your body. You get rid of a car and its still a car, but you don’t drive it anymore. You die but your physical body remains and when that rots away only the memory of what you were, if there is a way that is preserved, still exists.   

 

 

 

     Similarly, we all try to cling to what we know with hopes that it really won’t change. We keep old pictures and notes and mementos of our trials and victories in the hopes that someday someone will find them and remember that you existed at one point in time. You wind back the clocks in your head with little triggers of memories: scrapbooks, journals. The past can always be revisited, but never re-lived.

    What we all have to admit to in the end is the fact that time is our true master. Your parents parents have died and your parents will die and you will die and eventually your children will die, each passing on their lives to the next down the line, both physically and through the rememberence of their existance. Time is what makes us human, what makes us mortal. There is no denying time of its wishes.

    When we die we are physically gone, but we are never really gone. Our lives remain.

‘Ode on Melancholy’

No, no! go not to Lethe, neither twist  
  Wolf’s-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine;  
Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kist  
  By nightshade, ruby grape of Proserpine;  
Make not your rosary of yew-berries,          5
  Nor let the beetle, nor the death-moth be  
    Your mournful Psyche, nor the downy owl  
A partner in your sorrow’s mysteries;  
  For shade to shade will come too drowsily,  
    And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul.   10
 
But when the melancholy fit shall fall  
  Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,  
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,  
  And hides the green hill in an April shroud;  
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,   15
  Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,  
    Or on the wealth of globèd peonies;  
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,  
  Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave,  
    And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.   20
 
She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die;  
  And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips  
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,  
  Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:  
Ay, in the very temple of Delight   25
  Veil’d Melancholy has her sovran shrine,  
    Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue  
Can burst Joy’s grape against his palate fine;  
  His soul shall taste the sadness of her might,  
    And be among her cloudy trophies hung.   30

What is John Keats trying to get across in his poem, Ode on Melancholy?

His first stanza uses dark imagery such as poison and hell to show that dwelling on sorrow will only allow it to become part of you and slowly drive you to despair. Keats’ second stanza suggests to the reader that if sorrow is to fall upon them, they should find things in life that make them feel happy to help drive off bad feelings. The last stanza concludes his discussion on melancholy buy suggesting that none of the good thigns in the world, such as beauty, joy, pleasure, or delight last forever but instead fade away leaving the less desirable of the feelings.

Most of this poem’s literary technique is pure and simple imagery and connotations. In the first stanza, he incorporates wolf’s bane, nightshade, and yew-berries, three types of poisonous plants, representing the way sorrow can get into your blood like a poison. Keats also warns against letting the beetle, the death-moth, or the owl (three more sinister animals) become your psyche, or let their dark symbolism become part of your soul or being. There are also two references to Hades: the river Lethe, and Proserpine, the goddess of the underworld (equivalent to Persephone). In the second stanza Keats once again uses symbolism to elaborate on the idea of sorrow, having it fall “from heaven like a weeping cloud that fosters the droop-headed flowers” covering everything in a shroud. If the words are looked at individually, it adds much more character to the passage. From the clouds weeping, to the flowers that droop as if they are sad, to the shroud, such as a covering one wears at a funeral, the entire first half of the stanza nearly ooze sorrow. The second half of the stanza suddenly switches to positive images such as a rose (traditionally meaning love), a rainbow (hope, such as in the story of Noah and the ark), a wealth of peonies (traditionally meaning prosperity), and the woman (representing beauty).

The last stanza uses an extended metaphor in the form of a personification. Beauty dies; Joy bids adieu; Pleasure aches. All of these nouns are capitalized and are refered to as “he” or “she”.

One of the interesting patterns in the poem occurs in the first stanza.  It suggests a three-piece progression through which one deals with depression. First you try to forget it, as the dead forget the trials of their lives in the river Lethe. However, that usually doesn’t work and it slowly leeches its way into your veins like a poison until it fills your whole body. Lastly, you are so far gone the only thing you can turn to is the perpetual call of death to just drown away everything permanently.

There are also three very similiar things in this section that can be regrouped another way. The wolf’s-bane is referred to in the form of wine, a drink customary of religious services for being the blood of Christ. The second religious symbol is the warning against using yew-berries, another poison, as rosary beads. The last reference is the psyche, which is essentially your soul. Could Keats possibly be using these objects to show the sacredness of finding a balance between emotions in life? If that balance is lost, your life slips into complete disorder.

Keats also uses a sort of a framing device in the poem through his imagery. The first stanza is full of symbolism for poison, and again in the last stanza when pleasure turns into poison. There is also the reference of nightshade as the “ruby grape of Proserpine”, a poison, while Joy is also referred to as a grape in the last stanza. The concept of the soul also carries over. In the first stanza, the mournful psyche is represented by an owl, or other sinister animal. In the last, the soul tastes the sadness of melancholy as the after taste of joy. This framing device unites the juxtaposition of desirable feelings and undesirable feelings. It shows that these feelings are connected, and one cannot truely exist without the other to create a foil. One cannot be truely appreciated without the other.