Poetry has the power to change how you see life, a finely crafted piece of prose digs deep into your psyche, stirring up emotions as you compose your thoughts and meaning to words scribbled down on a page. 

I wanted to share two poems from Charles Bukowski, which are special to me due to how they have helped change my perspective and influence my thinking.  As part of today’s post, I also wanted to share my interpretation, why they mean so much. 

The Laughing Heart 

your life is your life 
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission. 
be on the watch. 
there are ways out. 
there is light somewhere. 
it may not be much light but 
it beats the darkness. 
be on the watch. 
the gods will offer you chances. 
know them. 
take them. 
you can’t beat death but 
you can beat death in life, sometimes. 
and the more often you learn to do it, 
the more light there will be. 
your life is your life. 
know it while you have it. 
you are marvelous 
the gods wait to delight in you

You can’t beat death, but you can beat death in life (Image from Pexels)

“your life is your life, don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission…” 

It was about six months after leaving the job where I’d worked under a bullying manager when I first came across this poem.  The trauma of the experience was still fresh in my mind.  My new start wasn’t just about settling into a new role, but rebuilding shattered confidence. 

I’d undergone a lot of emotional blackmail from my previous manager, with thinly veiled threats talking about “loyalty”, “doing my time”, and “senior management won’t be happy when they hear you’re looking for career advancement.” 

“your life is your life, don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.” triggered those raw feelings deep within my heart.  It reminded me how the previous spark in me had been extinguished by my overbearing manager, the desire for success had gone and I’d allowed my life to “be clubbed into dank submission” by someone who never had my best interests at heart. 

I was the type of guy to go with the flow, going out to people please and do things to try and make other people happy at the expense of my own fulfillment.  Those words made me realise how much I’d let the mediocrity and insecurities of others hold me back for too long.  Despite adversity, this poem allowed me to recognise what I’d allowed my life become because of a bully.  Now I seek out the “light somewhere”, and not let others dictate how I should live.  Afterall… 

“you can’t beat death but, you can beat death in life, sometimes.” 

It’s an inevitable fate, that discriminates against no one, one day we will die…  I read this line from Bukowski to mean that we have to accept this fate, but by being true to ourselves, having ambitions, enjoying the moments life presents us, being grateful for what we have, it is possible to beat death by pursuing a life we find fulfilling. 

That means being able to pursue without the interference and opinions of what others think we should be doing.  Life is finite, why should what you do with your life, be dictated by others? 

No leaders please 

invent yourself and then reinvent yourself, 

don’t swim in the same slough. 

invent yourself and then reinvent yourself 

and 

stay out of the clutches of mediocrity. 

invent yourself and then reinvent yourself, 

change your tone and shape so often that they can 

never 

categorize you. 

reinvigorate yourself and 

accept what is 

but only on the terms that you have invented 

and reinvented. 

be self-taught. 

and reinvent your life because you must; 

it is your life and 

its history 

and the present 

belong only to 

you. 

Be Self-Taught (Image from Pexels)

“invent yourself and then reinvent yourself..” 

Back in my college days, I was socially awkward.  It was only a select group of friends I was capable of holding down a conversation.  Because I lacked any natural charm, I tried to appear cool by walking around in a black leather jacket, and slick back my half with half a tonne of hair gel. 

Eventually this look, along with requiring spectacles began to define who I was.  When people where describing me they would say “the guy with glasses, too much gel in his hair, who wears the same leather jacket all the time.” 

My plan to establish myself as a silent badass had back fired, and I began to despise hearing myself defined by a visual impairment and an item of clothing.  I ditched the look, and have never stuck to a particular piece of fashion to let myself be boxed in such shallow terms again. 

“invent yourself and then reinvent yourself…” is a philosophy I’ve tried spending the majority of my adult life to follow.  Whenever things have got too routine, and uniformed, I’ve never allowed myself to go become bored with my situation, and make changes. 

These words have inspired me to recognise that who I am today, does not necessarily need to be who I am in the future, this has been particularly comforting in times when I’ve felt like a major loser who’d never achieve anything. 

As my life has become more stable, I’ve lost the need to keep reinventing myself as much, but this poem reminds me 

  • If you are unhappy with your life – make changes. 
  • If people define you as a certain type of person, challenge that perception so it’s no longer accurate. 
  • Never let yourself be defined by a “role” that you pick-up as you go through life, persue new interests, change your career, change your goals, change your friends – never settle. 
  • Always seek new challenges and adventures. 

“it is your life and, its history, and the present belong only to, you.” 

Similar to The Laughing Heart, this poem has a heavy theme of empowerment on your own life.  When it talks about “it’s history”, I’ve always interpreted this to mean how you choose to be about  your past is up to you. 

If you’ve made a lot of mistakes, it’s about applying ownership, making amends, and learning from them.  In my case, I recognise what has already happened and accept I cannot do anything to change painful moments from the past, and focus on the here and now, which I can change… reinvent. 

After all, as Bukowski says.. “the present belong only to, you.” 

What poems inspire you? (Image from Pexels)

“Can you remember who you were, before the world told you who you should be?” 

Charles Bukowski

Poetry is a wonderful art form to throw yourself into – whether you are well read, or a novice who hasn’t read a book in your life, your soul can be touched, by reading through a short paragraph of words. 

What are your favourite poems?  What do they mean to you? 

References: 

Full credit to these sites where the Transcriptions for these poems was grabbed: 

The Best American Poetry: The Laughing Heart 

Tilting Our Heads Up: No Leaders Please 

Finally the quote from Charles Bukowski, used in the closing which I thought was quite relevant to this post is from Overall Motivation: 45 Motivational Charles Bukowski Quotes For Success In Life 


Take care of yourself and see you next time.

James @Perfect Manifesto

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