“ruin” by Charles Bukowski

William Saroyan said, “I ruined my
life by marrying the same woman

there will always be something
to ruin our lives,
it all depends upon
what or which
finds us
we are always
ripe and ready
to be

ruined lives are
both for the wise

it is only when
that life
becomes ours
we realize
that the suicides, the
drunkards, the mad, the
jailed, the dopers
and etc. etc.
are just as common
a part of existence
as the gladiola, the
and nothing
on the kitchen

 “ruin,” by Charles Bukowski from Septuagenarian Stew (Black Sparrow Press).

9 thoughts on “ “ruin” by Charles Bukowski

    1. Ha! I actually thought of you when I scheduled this piece, because I know you weren’t Buk’s greatest fan and couldn’t make sense of his line breaks.

      I’m not so sure he had a method, per se, other than just breaking when he felt like it. Though in some pieces it certainly does put emphasis on certain words. I haven’t analyzed his work, so there may be a fashion to it that I don’t realize; I’d be happy to hear from others that may know better than I.


  1. Jim James

    I really enjoyed reading this poem. I teach high school English. Would it be appropriate for my students?


    1. Hi Jim, thanks for your note. Hmmm, good question. I’d say you would the best judge of your students (and school guidelines) to answer that question. Bukowski tends often to the vulgar and, um, more mature subjects and word choices (drinking, sex, cursing), but I do know that he’s a poet that many young adults (especially males) gravitate toward.

      My personal opinion is that this piece is pretty tame, and while a tad bleak, does show that there is good and bad out there, black and white, ups and downs, etc etc, and that “ruin” can strike any one of us…none of us are immune. I think it’s a good piece to explore and to maybe follow up with one or two of Buk’s more positive/optimistic pieces … I’d recommend “The Laughing Heart” and “nobody but you” … that yes, although ruin is possible, so is our ability to save ourselves, to find the light…

      If you share with your students, I’d love to hear how they responded.

      (And please, teachers, if you have a different opinion than mine, feel free to share your thoughts on teaching Bukowski in class.)


  2. Mike Mirarchi

    What a despairing poem! It makes me want to slit my wrists! And I love it! 🙂 It’s funny, Bukowski has so many powerful poems of despair. Are you familiar with his poem “Finish?” It’s a similarly depressing poem:

    We are like roses that have never bothered to
    bloom when we should have bloomed and
    it is as if
    the sun has become disgusted with

    It’s funny, though, that a drunk, compulsive gambling sex addict can write such wonderfully uplifting poems. I love the ones you mentioned. “The Laughing Heart” may be my all-time favorite Bukowski poem (although it’s hard to pick just one). And I love “nobody but you.” For so many years, I was looking for something or someone to save me. I thought if I just found the right woman, or the right therapist, or the right meds, everything would be good. Today I see the wisdom in Bukowski’s poem, and I know that I’m the only one who can save myself. Two other Bukowski poems that I love because of their defiance in the face of life’s misery are “a song with no end” and “the nights you fight best”:


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Love those two you mentioned…”the nights you fight best” is perfect; had never read “Finish” … dark but so lovely, like a Linda Pastan poem.

      I think my favorite Buk poem is “Bluebird” or at least my most longest favorite… as in the first poem of his that I remember really kicking me in the gut.


      1. Mike Mirarchi

        I’m glad you liked “Finish.” I really love “the nights you fight best:

        The nights you fight best are
        on a night like this
        as you chase a thousand dark rats from your brain,
        as you rise up against the impossible,
        as you become a brother to the tender sister of joy . . .

        Holy crap! 😮 Those lines blow me away! That’s cool that “Bluebird” is your favorite Bukowski poem. I really like that poem as well. There are so many Bukowski poems that feel like a kick in the gut. That’s one of the reasons why I love Bukowski.


      2. Mike Mirarchi

        Ha! Actually, I couldn’t see what you did there, Christy. I was scratching my head. So I googled it, and now I see what you did there! 😉 Thank you for introducing me to that song!


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