Alone with Everybody - Charles Bukowski

Interestingly, on Valentine's day someone shared a poem of despair by Charles Bukowski: Alone with Everybody.  A very interesting poem about the truth of humanity.  First the poem, and then I'll share some of my comments and some from others. 

Alone with Everybody by Charles Bukowski

the flesh covers the bone
and they put a mind
in there and
sometimes a soul,

and the women break
vases against the walls
and the men drink too

and nobody finds the

but keep
crawling in and out
of beds.
flesh covers
the bone and the
flesh searches
for more than

there's no chance
at all:
we are all trapped
by a singular

nobody ever finds
the one.

the city dumps fill
the junkyards fill
the madhouses fill
the hospitals fill
the graveyards fill

nothing else

My Notes

The title and feeling of the poem reminds me of a sher from a Jagjit Singh Ghazal:

Har Taraf Har Jagah Beshumaar Aadmi
Phir Bhi Tanhaayion Ka Shikaar Aadmi

In every direction, in every place, there is man.
Even then, loneliness hunts this man!

Full Ghazal: Har Taraf Har Jagah

Bukowski in his lamentations reminds me of the Punjabi poet Shiv Kumar Batalvi and also Guru Tegh Bahadur.  For example here is Shiv Kumar Batalvi's ghazal 

ਤੂੰ ਵਿਦਾ ਹੋਇਉਂ ਮੇਰੇ ਦਿਲ ਤੇ ਉਦਾਸੀ ਛਾ ਗਈ
ਪੀੜ ਦਿਲ ਦੀ ਬੂੰਦ ਬਣ ਕੇ ਅੱਖੀਆਂ ਵਿਚ ਆ ਗਈ

When you left, loneliness overcame my heart
And the pain of my heart became tears in my eyes

ਦੂਰ ਤਕ ਮੇਰੀ ਨਜ਼ਰ ਤੇਰੀ ਪੈੜ ਚੁੰਮਦੀ ਰਹੀ
ਫੇਰ ਤੇਰੀ ਪੈੜ ਰਾਹਾਂ ਦੀ ਮਿੱਟੀ ਖਾ ਗਈ

ਤੁਰਨ ਤੋਂ ਪਹਿਲਾ ਸੀ ਤੇਰੇ ਜੋਬਨ ਤੇ ਬਹਾਰ
ਤੁਰਨ ਪਿੱਛੋਂ ਵੇਖਿਆ ਕਿ ਹਰ ਕਲੀ ਕੁਮਲਾ ਗਈ

ਉਸ ਦਿਨ ਪਿੱਛੋਂ ਅਸਾਂ ਨਾ ਬੋਲਿਆ ਨਾ ਵੇਖਿਆ
ਇਹ ਜ਼ਬਾਂ ਖਾਮੋਸ਼ ਹੋ ਗਈ ਤੇ ਨਜ਼ਰ ਪਥਰਾ ਗਈ

ਇਸ਼ਕ ਨੂੰ ਸੌਗਾਤ ਜਿਹੜੀ ਪੀੜ ਸੈਂ ਤੂੰ ਦੇ ਗਿਉਂ
ਅੰਤ ਉਹੀਉ ਪੀੜ 'ਸ਼ਿਵ' ਨੂੰ ਖਾਂਦੀ ਖਾਂਦੀ ਖਾ ਗਈ

Others' Analysis on Alone with Everybody

The ending of Alone with Everybody is certainly interesting. The speaker is clearly searching to fill a void that he feels in his life. This void, he believes, is the lack of a person to share his life with. He loses hope that the void can be filled. He has never seen this void filled in someone’s life, and he has certainly never felt it filled in his own. He feels empty and desolate. So he lists the things that he has seen filled: dumps, junkyards, madhouses, hospitals, and graveyards, but not the human heart. He concludes, “nothing else fills”. And so he ends his poem with the same feeling of utter meaninglessness with which it began. Though he is surrounded by people, he feels alone. He feels he is nothing but bone covered by flesh, with a mind that “they” gave him as an after-thought. He believes he may or may not have a soul, and he feels hopeless at the prospect of filling the void in his heart.

Charles Bukowski’s poetry is often associated with by references to alcohol, sex, and perpetual sadness. In his poem “Alone with Everybody,” Bukowski addresses all three topics. This freeform poem describes the pain that comes with trying to find “the one” romantic partner to be with for eternity, and how no one will ever truly find this person, despite so many attempts. The title itself states that each of us is destined to be “alone,” or unhappy in a relationship. In yet another poem where “Bukowski writes with no apologies from the frayed edge of society” (Kessler). The tone of this poem is just as cynical and sad as one could expect from any Bukowski work, but still tells an honest truth about the romanticization of finding “the one” and how these unrealistic expectations sets one up for disappointment. 

The speaker opens by reducing people to “flesh” and “bone,” (line 1) mere animals with instincts to find one another. He goes on to say that “they” (line 2) made the idea that there is “sometimes a soul” (line 4) in us. The speaker is clearly cynical of the idea that humans have anything more than just a skeleton in us- it is clear that the speaker believes that a soul is a human construct. In addition, the speaker is so pessimistic of human emotions that he/she describes then by their skin and skeletons instead. By reducing people to nothing but a physical body, the speaker is proving a point about how finding love is not what people think it is. This is a cynical way of seeing humans’ desire to find love and romance, only to be expected by 

Bukowski, a writer with a “loner persona” (Economou). The speaker goes on to explain in lines 5-8 how people’s sadness and utter loneliness can be expressed through different outlets.

and the women break 

vases against the walls 

and the men drink too 


Here, it is clear how women who are expected to remain cool, calm, and collected are likely to lose themselves in an angry burst, while men who often suppress their feelings will drink their sadness away. Even the word choice in how the speaker explains their violent coping mechanisms is vital here- a “vase” (line 6) tends to be feminine, as it is a household item used to hold flowers. The men “drink” (line 7) because alcohol is a way to internalize their pain, another form of escapism. These raw descriptions of how heartbroken people employ different forms of self-destruction to deal with their pain add to the bleak tone of the poem. 

In the next line, the speaker explains how people are constantly searching for their soulmate despite so many failed attempts at doing so, how they are constantly “crawling in and out / of beds” (lines 13-14) in search for someone to love them. The metaphor of humans being mere “flesh” comes back into play because humans are always looking for another body to fulfill their need. The people are “crawling” as if they are wounded, though in this case the speaker is insinuating that this is emotional pain they are struggling with. These people are desperate for affection and relief, a person to call their own or at least a place to escape. Bukowski uses this poem to suggest that people are defeated and depressed from heartbreak

Then, the speaker makes a daring statement that every human has the same destiny of loneliness- that “no one ever finds / the one” (lines 25-26). This controversial negative opinion of romance sets the theme for the entire poem. This is also where the title is so revealing; “Alone With Everybody” refers to how each person will end up alone, but everybody is together in having this destiny. 

The last few lines go on to say that although “junkyards” (line 28) and cemeteries and “hospitals” (line 30)  might fill up with garbage and humans, this is all that will be filled. The speaker chooses to use these places as examples because they are the opposite of the romance he/she is so critical of. These are places that are full of despair and sadness, which is the the negative reality the speaker is highlighting. When it comes down to people’s desire to be with someone else, to feel less lonely and “fill” the void inside them, this will never come. The speaker’s view is that people will always be alone, no matter how hard they try. 

Charles Bukowski’s poetry leaves readers with a sense of familiar sadness. In his poem “Alone with Everybody,” Bukowski does not disappoint. This freeform poem describes the pain that comes with trying to find “the one” romantic partner to be with for eternity, and how no one will ever truly find this person, despite so many attempts. Throughout these lines, Bukowski uses specific word choices and metaphors to maintain a theme of hopelessness and loneliness.