Summary and Analysis of Decline by Charles Bukowski: 2022

About the Poet:

Henry Charles Bukowski (August 16, 1920- March, 1994) was a German poet born in America. He was not only a poet but also a novelist, and a short story writer. His writing was greatly influenced by the social, cultural and economic environment of his home city in Los Angeles. His poems would largely include themes of the poor lives of the American rural classes, alcohol, relationships with women, and the drudgery of work. His work is described by many as that of a realist with dark tones to his poems and a sense of escapism, alienation, depression, and loneliness.

Introduction to Decline:

Charles Bukowski, in his poem “Decline”, talks about the downfall in the life of the narrator. He does not give a clear background as to what the narrator is referring to, but dictates the concept of a decline in the general lifestyle and outlook of the individual. A possible explanation to the poem is the narration of an old soul who thinks he has lived his life completely and is now grieving at the current state of himself and his surroundings as he awaits to be one with the Almighty. He recollects memories of his past and later laments the sad state of his present, resenting everything that has declined since then.

Setting of Decline:

Bukowski depicts the speaker to be in the later phases of his life, picked up after the phases “have I come to this?” and “I once battled in dark alleys”, where he was supposedly in a better state that the current one. He asks the Almighty “How many years do you want?” and “how many more days?” denoting his dissatisfaction with life in the present circumstances. Times of “a rotted sky” has taken over and he says that he can now be capable of understanding the downfall of cities and nations after passing through the downfall of his surroundings and even of his mental well-being.

Poetic Devices in Decline:

Line 2: “8 a.m, spreading sesame seed oil”
Line 9: “how many years do you want?”
Line 17: “a small plane passes overhead”
Personification/ Metaphor:
Line 5: “I once battled in dark alleys for a laugh”
Line 11 and 12: “my blood is soiled and a dark
                              Angel sits in my brain.”
Line 15 and 16: “I understand the fall of cities,
                              Of nations”
Line 20: “it’s true, the sky has rotted”

Summary of Decline:

The poet, Charles Bukowski depicts the scenes of a decline in the surrounding as well as the mental well-being of the narrator who believes to have lived the best parts of his life a long time ago. He laments over how his past was a rough but joyful patch in his life but now, none of the laughter or joyfulness still remains. The narrator now lives in what seems to be the worst phase of his life and asks of the Almighty to release him from this declining mental state. He is tired of the evil that has now settled in his consciousness and asks God of the time that he has yet to wait until he shall be lifted off of the life he is obligated to live in.

Critical Analysis of Decline:

The poet, Charles Bukowski wants to portray the thoughts and musings of an old soul who cannot wait to be released from the life that he currently lives. He narrates the character’s disdain for his present circumstances and recollects memories of his past where he lived a much more joyful lie that his life was. The clear decline in the life of the character is what Bukowski captures accurately. He reflects on the minds of the readers about the sad reality of time and aging where the prolongation of the person’s period in life is proportional to his sorrows. He makes his readers question themselves as to whether they will lead such a sorrowful life in their old age and if they have the capacity to change their present circumstances so as to not regret any adversities that they face in their future.

Central Idea of Decline:

The poem revolves around the life of an individual who has lived a major part of his life and now has no regard for his present environment. He wishes to be one with the Almighty so as to escape this phase in his life where there is nothing to look forward to. He looks at his life as a decline in the mental well-being of an individual and realises that he now truly relates with the downfall of cities and nations that resembles the downhill journey that his life has taken.

Tone of Decline:

The poem begins with Bukowski’s character who is shown to spread sesame oil over himself at 8 am, wondering what happened to his life. He asks the Almighty as to what all his life has come up to and asks him as to how much longer does he need to bear with it. He narrates all his implications: the dark angel living in his mind and all his life’s teachings boiling down to make no sense. He speaks his mind about realizing what the downfall of cities and nations must feel like and later says that he soon shall not be the only one to experience all that.


Bukowski wants his readers to get accustomed to knowing the truth about how life could possibly seem to feel like in the future. He narrates all the thoughts and relations one could possibly feel like in that stage in life and in this way, makes his readers much more prepared about life in general. He wishes to instill in his audience the power to recognize this decline that may occur in their life and hence makes them stay much more cautious of their mental well-being before it is too late.
Contributor: Deeksha Honawar

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