Introduction to the Poet:
Henry Charles Bukowski (born Heinrich Karl Bukowski; August 16, 1920 – March 9, 1994) was a German-born American poet, novelist, and short story writer. His home city Los Angeles’ social, economic, political background influenced his writing. His writing deals with the lives of poor Americans, downtrodden of American society, alcoholism, relationship with women, act of writing and drudgery of work.
Ham on Rye, Post Office, Dinosauria,We, Darkling, The Soldier, The Wife And The Bum, Notes of a Dirty Man are some of his famous works.
He died of leukemia on March 9, 1994, in San Pedro, aged 73.
‘Hot’ by Charles Bukowski tells a story of the speaker’s relationship with a woman, her impatience, immaturity, his carnal desire and ultimately the futility of human bonding for physical pleasure. The poem deals with the speaker’s obsession with a woman named ‘Miriam’ and how she abuses and deserts him because he was late to see her. The poem, simple in language and easy to understand is written in Bukowski’s style and gives us a psychological insight of human behavior.
Setting of Hot:
The poem is set during a time where mails had to be carried by mail carrier and there was no means of electronic and digital communication: evident from the lines:
“I delivered all the mail”
Though electronic communication of mail were not prominent, the culture of bars and drinking in the bar was evident by his lines:
“there were 5000 bar in the town”.
The huge number of bards in the town made it evident that drinking was a habit of the folks.
It was such an era that mails had to be delivered by truck and for relaxation; one had to go to the bar.
Poetic Devices in Hot:
“She was hot, she was so hot”. Here ‘hot’ refers to not the temperature of her body but her physical appeal. Generally in colloquial terms, hot means someone of great physical appeal (referred mostly in a sexual manner). The same meaning is applied here.
“I gave the bear a drink, myself a drink”
Giving the bear a drink is a symbolism of perceiving the absence of Miriam.
“I had to go home by 8, 8 was the deadline for Miriam”.
The number 8 is not merely any number, here. The Pythagoreans have made number 8 a symbol for love while it is also a symbol of self destruction. Thus, it is suggestive of self destruction by physical attraction mistaken as love.“……Miriam who sat on my blue couch”. Blue is a colour of sensuality, and amorous display of love. Therefore, it signifies the amorous playfulness between Miriam and the speaker.
“……..Miriam who sat on my blue couch
with scotch ……..
………like she did.”
This is an imagery of how Miriam behaved when she was with the speaker and helps us create an image of the woman.
“I poured the water and water run into the tub”
“her purple teddy bear…….
These are imageries themselves. The hot water in the bathtub and the purple teddy bear carrying the note that Miriam left the speaker creates a cosy ambience and makes the reader imaginative and thoughtful about the state of speaker’s mind.
“the temperature ………
A comparison between the temperature of the engine and Miriam’s physical appeal is made here.
The word ‘hot’ is repeated many a times to make various senses. Once to magnify the physically appealing attributes of Miriam, then to compare the hot engine with that of Miriam’s charismatic body, lastly to describe the temperature of water.
Summary of Hot:
The poem deals with the speaker’s relationship with a woman named Miriam. The first line itself states that the speaker consider Miriam an appealing woman. The alluring physique of her is emphasised by “she was so hot”. The next few lines clearly showed that the speaker was obsessed with Miriam and didn’t want anybody else to have her. This is an evident sign of possessiveness indicating obsession. Even though he understood he was childish in her obsession, he was so allured that couldn’t stop him on the duty of night pickup run in a an old army truck that began to get heated up halfway. This reminded him of Miriam, who had never left his mind. Meanwhile, he counted the number of pickups he was left with and he couldn’t wait to go back to Miriam who’d sit on his blue couch and swing her ankles while having scotch.
Unfortunately, the car had come to a halt at the traffic light and it had to be kicked to be moved again. He hurried to get back home as Miriam would wait for him till 8 o’clock. That was her deadline. Thus , he says:
“I had to be home by 8, 8 was the deadline for Miriam”.
When he made the last pick up ½ block from the station, the car had come to a halt and it didn’t start. Unable to wait anymore, the speaker opens the door with a key and he sees a note that she had left beside her drink. The note says that she had waited for a long time and waiting all day. She complains that though he doesn’t love her, she will find somebody who loves her truly. Lastly she even cursed him by saying “sun of a bitch”.
Lastly, the poem ends by saying that there was 5000 bar in the town and he had searched in 25 of them yet he couldn’t find her. Thus, in disappointment, he lays down and got into the hot water offering the teddy bear and himself a drink.
Critical Analysis of Hot:
Keeping in pace with other Bukowski’s poems, ‘Hot’ also deals with his relationship with women. The understanding of women psychological insights, filled with childishness, impatience and anger. Miriam is an woman with a great physique yet the speaker fails to unite with her in the end.
Throughout the poem, the speaker says that she is ‘hot’ and though he knew he was being childish, he was caught with her, entrapped by her appeal. He kept on thinking about Miriam, the way she would sit on his blue couch with scotch, swinging her ankles and crossing her legs. Thus, he says
“……. Miriam who sat on my blue couch
with scotch on the rocks
Crossing her legs and swinging her ankles
Like she did,”
There are signs of sensuality like the ‘blue’ couch, ‘blue’ being the colour for sensual and amorous play, scotch magnifying the sensual experience and so on.
Even though he tried hard but couldn’t come back within 8, the woman named Miriam had left with a note cursing him. This shows the impatient nature of the woman, her wrath and anger. This brings us to the conclusion, even though the speaker tried his best to keep her, yet he couldn’t. The woman, in spite of all of the speaker’s effort abused him and left him.
The teddy bear that she left the note with reminded the speaker of her presence and thus he offered it a drink just like he would have shared a drink with Miriam.
Central Idea of Hot:
The central idea of the poem deals with the futile human relationships which are in vain. The bond of physical relationship does not stay long and soon fades away. Relationships aren’t made strong with obsession or lust but with care and love. In the poem, the speaker’s relationship with Miriam had been merely of lust and passionate sexual play. Nowhere in the poem does the speaker mention about Miriam’s characteristics, her set of mind, or the kind of woman she had been. Maybe the need for a heart to heart relationship wasn’t felt or made.
The ending of the poem suggest that because the relationship had been limited to physical boundaries only, the lady was impatient and couldn’t wait for the speaker to come back and even the speaker couldn’t find her.
Thus, the poem deals with the vanity of sexual relationship and the psychological insights of a female mind in a simple yet subtle manner.
Tone of Hot:
The tone is at the beginning one of possessiveness and obsession when the speaker states:
“I didn’t want anybody else to have her”.
It remains one until it changes to one of hurry and desperation as the speaker keeps on counting the number of pickups and couldn’t wait to go back to his Miriam. He constantly thought of her. The sensuality in the tone comes up when he describes how Miriam would wait for him on the blue couch with scotch and swinging her ankles.
The tone changes again to one of desperation and restlessness when the old truck stalled and couldn’t move.
Finally, the tone changed to one of a sigh and disappointment when the speaker couldn’t find Miriam.
Though Bukowski gained controversial opinions about his poems and was initially termed as a ‘misogynist’, yet his fame rose and this poem like many others is favourite among the readers of the modern literature.
Contributor: Bidisha Das
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