Poetry Analysis – Assignment 1
As a collection of social beings, humanity and the individual entities within cannot help but crave attention and the personal gratification which comes as a result. It is therefore reasonable to say that in the near-sighted and impulsive throes of youth, one will garner attention through whatever means necessary, lacking the foresight to ascertain that said attention will most likely be short-lived and unsustainable. It is this troubling concept which Charles Bukowski addresses masterfully in his poem ‘Betting on a Muse’, perusing the irrelevancy of those who were once relevant early on, and the reversal of such with himself. He utilizes the classic example of high-school jocks: popular and well-loved in their prime, yet unsuccessful and even destitute in their later years. Bukowski then contrasts this with his inglorious writer self, whose relevancy and skills only increase with time, carrying him into the future. Through the use of imagery, literary devices, structure, voice, and an old-fashioned emotional ideal, Bukowski truly makes good on the notion that ‘forward thinking is the best thinking’.
Imagery and literary devices are used both creatively and ingeniously throughout the piece in order to further impact the reader and truly emphasize Bukowski’s intended meaning for the work. To begin, stark and contrasting imagery is used when discussing the lives of high school jockeys ‘Jack Beau’ and ‘Jimmy Foxx’, along with their former glory. The latter, Jimmy Fox, is described as having “died an alcoholic / in a skidrow hotel”, whereas Beau Jack “ended up shining / shoes, / just where he began”. This creates a depressing, even grim scene in the reader’s mind, one which brings forward emotions of loss and a seeming inability to move forward. This is further compounded by the simile at the end of the first stanza, in which an athlete grown old is an “old man / like other old / men”, bring the reader an even greater sense of isolation and loneliness. All this serves as a great contrast to that in the next stanza, describing the “yellowing / pages” of a scrapbook and calling on the reader (placing him in the role of a high school jock) to see himself “victorious” and “smiling”. This brings to mind a joyous, almost nostalgic scene full of reminiscence – truly emphasizing the decline in success to which Bukowski is making reference to
– going from ‘victorious’ and ‘smiling’ in the early years to reaching a literal dead-end later on.
Secondly, the reverse of this situation, Bukowski’s choice to be a writer, is described using clever metaphors. It is mentioned that as a writer, one “can keep…[the] / hussle going”, and “keep hitting them over the / wall”. Of course, Bukowski is using these to make reference to success, saying that one can continue working and succeeding as a writer “until the last minute / of the last / day.” Yet, the true genius of Bukowski lies in the irony of these statements, making reference to long-time success through athletic metaphors whilst previously claiming that the two can rarely co-exist. Obviously, Bukowski utilizes imagery and literary devices not only for emotional impact, but also as a sort of comic relief at the end of a quite dark and involved piece.
Also used to great effect in the piece are its structure and voice, although not apparently so. Consisting of 5 stanzas possessing varying numbers of lines, there is nothing unusual at first glance. Yet, reading the poem, one can find an interesting pattern linking the length of the first 4 stanzas and the content within. These stanzas seem to progress in a reverse chronological order, first discussing high school jocks near the end of life and slowly progressing backwards into their earlier years (although more negatively so; making note of the fact that those times are long gone). One can also see a noticeable decrease in the size of these stanzas, going from 17 lines to 10, 8, and finally 5 lines. One could assume that Bukowski is using this decrease to make reference to the amount of time spent at each phase of a jock’s life, the least being actual success and popularity (stanza 4), the most being destitution and sadness (stanza 1), and time spent reminiscing falling somewhere in between (stanza 2). This again works to strengthen the piece’s meaning, that early success does not equate to long-time prosperity when based off something unsustainable. Secondly, one can also see changes in the voice of the piece between stanzas. Whereas the piece begins in the third person, talking about “Jimmy Foxx…[dying] an alcoholic” and the such, one can see a transition into the second person in the next stanza, where Bukowski repeatedly uses the phrase “there you are”. In the last stanza, Bukowski even uses the first person, saying “that is why I chose to be a writer”.
This subtle transition allows for the reader to slowly entrench himself in the piece, beginning with the emotional disconnect generally associated with third person and eventually moving to the much closer emotional connection that is first and second person. This not only connects the reader with Bukowski in the last stanza, but also makes it seem as if Bukowski is speaking to the reader on a personal level, motivating him by saying “you can keep / getting better / instead of worse, / you can still keep hitting them over the wall.” Overall, structure and voice were used quite effectively to b