Henry Charles Bukowski (1920 – 1994) was an original poet in that he could write very profound poetry without sounding pompous or condescending. Although best known for his humorous works, he mostly wrote on serious topics like love and death. One of his best poems encompassing both of these issues is “For Jane” which is widely assumed to be a lament about the death of his first love. Bukowski compresses his bewilderment, his fear, his rage and his new-found knowledge in the final stanza of the poem.
The stanza begins “what you were” and that’s basically an apt summary of the previous two stanzas (14 lines). Who was Jane? According to the poem, Jane has been dead for 225 days. She was one the love of the poet’s life and now is “a dry stick in a basket” (line 4). The poet is haunted by memories of Jane. Jane was loved, but Jane is now dead. What she did in life is not so important right now to the poet than the simple fact that she is no longer there. The second stanza begins “when you left” (line 8) which implies that Jane left the poet voluntarily or purposefully by dying. By leaving, she has taken “almost everything” (line 10). Sadly, she was not able to take the poet along with her, even though she’s dead, buried and no longer human but a “stick in the ground.”
Bukowski writes in very short lines, sometimes only one word long, in order to help the reader better pay attention to the very words on the page. It also helps a reader slow down when reading the poem and therefore is better able to pay attention to each of these very deliberately chosen words. The poem is short, primarily because life is short. The final stanza is the shortest stanza – only four lines long. The final stanza’s brevity almost looks as if it’s the poet’s “moral of the story.” Its very brevity causes it to stand out among the other two stanzas. The shape is also different than the other two stanzas. Slightly cross one’s eyes while looking at the poem and one can see the poem’s shape. The first two stanzas are asymmetrical in shape – one long line followed by a very short line and then back to a longer line again. The final stanza is symmetrical – a gentle curve, perhaps mimicking one of the late Jane’s bodily curves.
The stanza continues “will not happen again” (Together “what you were/ will not happen again.”) That period shows that the statement is final. Jane is dead. All that she represented, all the feelings she gave, all the love she had is now gone and can never be repeated, because the poet knows that he will never find someone exactly like Jane ever again. The poet now faces the rest of his life without Jane.
The third line reads “the tigers have found me”. Tigers are mentioned in the first stanza as “shadows” (line 8) and in the second stanza as “tigers/ that will not let me be” (lines 13 and 14). Tigers are predators. Bukowski could use them as symbols of his sorrow over Jane’s death. He also could have chosen tigers out of all other predators in order to allude to “The Tyger” by William Blake. He does mention that in the night he “kneels” before tigers. Blake’s tiger “burns bright/ In the forests of the night” (lines 1 and 2 and also repeated in lines 21 and 22). Blake is actually writing about God when writing “The Tyger.” He equates the tiger with evil. He asks the tiger if “He who made the Lamb made thee?” The implied answer is “yes – the same God that made a lamb also made the tiger.” In “For Jane” Bukowski is also talking to his tiger – the dead Jane who will not leave him alone. The same God that also made gentle Jane also made the ultimate evil predator – death.
Which brings us to the final line of the poem “and I do not care.” Bukowski is being vague as to what exactly it is that he does not care about, letting the reader decide. Does he not care about the tigers who have found him in the previous line? Does he not care about having Jane in his life? Does he not care about God, love, death or life in general? Whatever it is, it is a final realization for the poet. He puts a period at the end of the line and writes nothing more about Jane for this poem. He may not care that this chapter in his life (loving Jane) is over and can never be reproduced. He faces being tormented by the loss of Jane and his first love for the rest of his life and he finally accepts his fate. Perhaps by not caring, the tigers that force him to his knees every night will no longer have any power over him.
Although the poem is entitled “For Jane” the poem is really about the poet coming to terms with reality 225 days after Jane’s death. There are five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) but the final stage is acceptance of the loss. It’s taken 225 days for the poet in order to get from denial that Jane is dead (he even accuses her of purposefully leaving him in the second stanza) in order to accept that she is dead but he is still alive and he needs to move on.
A lesser poet than Bukowski would have written pages about coming to terms after a lover’s death. Even Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” is far too long for Bukowski’s taste. While Poe ends his poem on a note of horror at the separation of death from his beloved, Bukowski ends his calmly (no exclamation points, no ravens croaking) with five simple words and a period – “and I do not care.” Bukowski does not directly address God or curse his fate, but he does go through a dialogue with a silent listener, presumably Jane, which has now taken on the god-like quality of omniscience in the first stanza (“and you know more than I.) (Line 2.) The poet now wants and needs to be left alone – even alone from God.
Bukowski, Charles. "For Jane." Poemhunter.org Date accessed 11/6/2014 http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/for-jane/