The 111 Most Essential Charles Bukowski Quotes

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Charles Bukowski was a prolific American author and poet that had an unsparing writing style in which he often graphically depicted daily life and interactions with people in his unique style. There is a certain style of grit to his writing that is hard to describe, but its rather unsparingly realistic and graphic – if you’ve read his writing, you will immediately understand what we’re referring to!

His most famous works are Post OfficeWomen, and Ham on Rye. If you haven’t read any of his works, we suggest you start with Post Office.

Bukowski grew up as a socially withdrawn adolescent.  His father was abusive and used to beat him three times a week which turned him into a shy and enraged young man. That led him down a path of alcohol and other substances and his pain and depression and broad range of emotions made him such an articulate observer and astute writer.

Bukowski’s stories tend to focus on his relationships (or characters similar to him) and they paint a vivid, often harrowing picture of daily life. His most famous books feature his alter ego “Henry Chinaski” – who is an alcoholic, womanizing writer who is rather misanthropic and loves classical music. So basically just like Bukowski himself.

Bukowski wrote a great number of poems and short stories and six novels. His work remains popular long after his death in March of 1994 and his books remain popular decades later.

We researched far and wide to put this article together because it was requested by a few readers. Here are some of the most compelling quotes – oh and we have to admit that #1 and #61 are by far our two most favorite ones!

Charles Bukowski Quotes

  1. “Find what you love and let it kill you.” – Charles Bukowski
  2. “If it doesn’t come roaring out of you in spite of everything, don’t do it.” – Charles Bukowski
  3. “There’s nothing to stop a man from writing unless that man stops himself. If a man truly desires to write, then he will.” – Charles Bukowski
  4. “Writing about writer’s block is better than not writing at all.” – Charles Bukowski
  5. “Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead.” – Charles Bukowski
  6. “You have to die a few times before you can really live.” – Charles Bukowski
  7. The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.” – Charles Bukowski
  8. “People with no morals often considered themselves more free, but mostly they lacked the ability to feel or love.” – Charles Bukowski
  9. “What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.“ – Charles Bukowski
  10. “Sometimes you climb out of bed in the morning and you think, I’m not going to make it, but you laugh inside — remembering all the times you’ve felt that way.” – Charles Bukowski
  11. “If you’re losing your soul and you know it, then you’ve still got a soul left to lose.” – Charles Bukowski
  12. “What is terrible is not death but the lives people live or don’t live up until their death.” – Charles Bukowski
  13. “We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.” – Charles Bukowski
  14. “You begin saving the world by saving one man at a time; all else is grandiose romanticism or politics.” – Charles Bukowski
  15. “We’re all going to die, all of us, what a circus! That alone should make us love each other but it doesn’t. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities, we are eaten up by nothing.” – Charles Bukowski
  16. “If you’re going to try, go all the way. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.” – Charles Bukowski
  17. “We don’t even ask happiness, just a little less pain.” – Charles Bukowski
  18. “Things get bad for all of us, almost continually, and what we do under the constant stress reveals who/what we are.” – Charles Bukowski
  19. “Some people like what you do, some people hate what you do, but most people simply don’t give a damn.” – Charles Bukowski
  20. “If you have the ability to love, love yourself first.” – Charles Bukowski
  21. “I read a lot of articles from writers who say write no matter what. Write every day. Write even when you don’t want to write… If that works for you, great, but it doesn’t for me.” – Charles Bukowski
  22. ”As a freelancer, I encounter times when I have to write but don’t want to. However, I value my breathing time and prefer writing when passion strikes.” – Charles Bukowski
  23. ”If able, I’ll take a break and read something for inspiration before forcing any words. Then I’ll wait for it to roar out of me once again.” – Charles Bukowski
  24. ”An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way.” – Charles Bukowski
  25. ”Sometimes you climb out of bed in the morning and you think, I’m not going to make it, but you laugh inside – remembering all the times you’ve felt that way.” – Charles Bukowski
  26. “We’re all going to die, all of us, what a circus! That alone should make us love each other but it doesn’t. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities, we are eaten up by nothing.” – Charles Bukowski
  27. “The free soul is rare, but you know it when you see it – basically because you feel good, very good, when you are near or with them.” – Charles Bukowski
  28. “The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts. While the stupid ones are full of confidence.” – Charles Bukowski
  29. “Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must live.” – Charles Bukowski
  30. “I wasn’t much for a petty thief. I wanted the whole world or nothing.” – Charles Bukowski
  31. “Genius might be the ability to say a profound thing in a simple way.” – Charles Bukowski
  32. “We are here to drink beer. We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that death will tremble to take us.” – Charles Bukowski
  33. “The less I needed, the better I felt.” – Charles Bukowski
  34. “What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.” – Charles Bukowski
  35. “If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.” – Charles Bukowski
  36. “The nine-to-five is one of the greatest atrocities sprung upon mankind. You give your life away to a function that doesn’t interest you.” – Charles Bukowski
  37. “We must.. We must bring our own light to the darkness” – Charles Bukowski
  38. “An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way.” Charles Bukowski
  39. “At the core of all good writing ( and copywriting ) is the sentence.” – Charles Bukowski
  40. ”How the hell could a person enjoy being awakened at 6:30AM, by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so?” – Charles Bukowski
  41. “Why was it that every time you saw a woman like that you were with another woman?” – Charles Bukowski
  42. “If it doesn’t come roaring out of you in spite of everything, don’t do it.”
  43. ”Great art is horse shit, buy tacos.” – Charles Bukowski
  44. ”An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way.” – Charles Bukowski
  45. ”Sometimes you climb out of bed in the morning and you think, I’m not going to make it, but you laugh inside – remembering all the times you’ve felt that way.” – Charles Bukowski
  46. ”People run from rain but sit in bathtubs full of water.” – Charles Bukowski
  47. ”Nothing is worse than to finish a good shit, then reach over and find the toilet paper container empty. Even the most horrible human being on earth deserves to wipe his ass.” – Charles Bukowski
  48. ”Baby, I said, I’m a genius but nobody knows it but me.” – Charles Bukowski
  49. ”I guess the only time most people think about injustice is when it happens to them. – Charles Bukowski
  50. “The tigers have found me and I do not care.” – Charles Bukowski
  51. ”And yet women-good women–frightened me because they eventually wanted your soul, and what was left of mine, I wanted to keep.” – Charles Bukowski
  52. “Bad taste creates many more millionaires than good taste.” – Charles Bukowski
  53. ”The nine-to-five is one of the greatest atrocities sprung upon mankind. You give your life away to a function that doesn’t interest you.” – Charles Bukowski
  54. “I wanted the whole world or nothing.” – Charles Bukowski
  55. “Sometimes you just have to pee in the sink.” – Charles Bukowski
  56. ”If you get married they think you’re finished and if you are without a woman they think you’re incomplete.” – Charles Bukowski
  57. “Poetry is what happens when nothing else can.” – Charles Bukowski
  58. “The free soul is rare, but you know it when you see it – basically because you feel good, very good, when you are near or with them.” – Charles Bukowski
  59. “I want so much that is not here and do not know where to go.” – Charles Bukowski
  60. ”In my work, as a writer, I only photograph, in words, what I see.” – Charles Bukowski
  61. ”If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.” – Charles Bukowski
  62. ”What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.” – Charles Bukowski
  63. ”We are here to drink beer. We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that death will tremble to take us.” – Charles Bukowski
  64. ”Dogs and angels are not very far apart.” – Charles Bukowski
  65. ”Anything is a waste of time unless you are fucking well or creating well or getting well or looming toward a kind of phantom-love-happiness. – Charles Bukowski
  66. “Genius might be the ability to say a profound thing in a simple way.” – Charles Bukowski
  67. ”People are strange: they are constantly angered by trivial things, but on a major matter like totally wasting their lives, they hardly seem to notice.” – Charles Bukowski
  68. ”You begin saving the world by saving one man at a time; all else is grandiose romanticism or politics.” – Charles Bukowski
  69. “The best often die by their own hand just to get away, and those left behind can never quite understand why anybody would ever want to get away from them.” – Charles Bukowski
  70. Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must live.” – Charles Bukowski
  71. ”I don’t like the clean-shaven boy with the necktie and the good job. I like desperate men, men with broken teeth and broken minds and broken ways. They interest me. They are full of surprises and explosions.” – Charles Bukowski
  72. “Beware of those who seek constant crowds; they are nothing alone.” – Charles Bukowski
  73. “He asked, What makes a man a writer? Well, I said, it’s simple. You either get it down on paper, or jump off a bridge.” – Charles Bukowski
  74. “In this land some of us fuck more than we die but most of us die better than we fuck.” – Charles Bukowski
  75. ”I loved you like a man loves a woman he never touches, only writes to, keeps little photographs of.” – Charles Bukowski
  76. “We drink our coffee and pretend not to look at each other.” – Charles Bukowski
  77. ”Still, I kept thinking about Lydia. The good parts of our relationship felt like a rat walking around and gnawing at the inside of my stomach.”- Charles Bukowski
  78. “The worst thing for a writer is to know another writer, and worse than that, to know a number of other writers. Like flies on the same turd. – Charles Bukowski
  79. “Why was it that every time you saw a woman like that you were with another woman?” – Charles Bukowski
  80. ”But your eyes –– they’re beautiful. They’re wild, crazy, like some animal peering out of a forest on fire.” – Charles Bukowski
  81. ”And yet women –– good women –– frightened me because they eventually wanted your soul, and what was left of mine, I wanted to keep.” – Charles Bukowski
  82. ”Human relationships were strange. I mean, you were with one person a while, eating and sleeping and living with them, loving them, talking to them, going places together, and then it stopped. Then there was a short period when you weren’t with anybody, then another woman arrived, and you ate with her and fucked her, and it all seemed so normal, as if you had been waiting just for her and she had been waiting for you. I never felt right being alone; sometimes it felt good but it never felt right.”– Charles Bukowski
  83. “I heard a long insane wail like a wolverine shot in the arctic snow and left to bleed and die alone…” – Charles Bukowski
  84. ”The lobster tasted good in my mouth, and I drank him down with fine wine. Good fellow. I always liked you in your pink-red shell, dangerous and slow.” – Charles Bukowski
  85. “It was best to stay away from other writers and just do your work…” – Charles Bukowski
  86. ”People were usually much better in their letters than in reality. They were much like poets in this way.” – Charles Bukowski
  87. “There isn’t a better way to drink than at a small table over a white tablecloth with a good-looking woman.” – Charles Bukowski
  88. “Fiction is an improvement on life.” – Charles Bukowski
  89. “I’m just an alcoholic who became a writer so that I would be able to stay in bed until noon.” – Charles Bukowski
  90. ”I was sentimental about many things: a woman’s shoes under the bed; one hairpin left behind on the dresser; the way they said, ‘I’m going to pee.’ hair ribbons; walking down the boulevard with them at 1:30 in the afternoon, just two people walking together; the long nights of drinking and smoking; talking; the arguments; thinking of suicide; eating together and feeling good; the jokes; the laughter out of nowhere; feeling miracles in the air; being in a parked car together; comparing past loves at 3am; being told you snore; hearing her snore; mothers, daughters, sons, cats, dogs; sometimes death and sometimes divorce; but always carrying on, always seeing it through; reading a newspaper alone in a sandwich joint and feeling nausea because she’s now married to a dentist with an I.Q. of 95; racetracks, parks, park picnics; even jails; her dull friends; your dull friends; your drinking, her dancing; your flirting, her flirting; her pills, your fucking on the side and her doing the same; sleeping together.” – Charles Bukowski
  91. ”Hello, Death. But I’ve had almost 6 decades. I’ve given you so many clean shots at me what I should have been yours long ago. I want to be buried near the racetrack… where I can hear the stretch run.” – Charles Bukowski
  92. “Sandra is the slim tall ear-ringed bedroom damsel dressed in a long gown, she’s always high in heels, spirit, pills and booze.” – Charles Bukowski
  93. ”She was always thinking of sex, she carried it around with her like something in a paper bag.” – Charles Bukowski
  94. ”Your boys can keep your virgins give me hot old women in high heels with asses that forgot to get old.” – Charles Bukowski
  95. “Your poems about the girls will still be around 50 years from now when the girls are gone, my editor phones me.” – Charles Bukowski
  96. “She’s from Texas and weighs 103 pounds and stands before the mirror combing oceans of reddish hard which falls all the way down her back to her ass.
  97. ”When I think of her life and compare it to other lives more dazzling, original and beautiful I realized that she has hurt fewer people than anybody I know (and by hurt I simply mean hurt). She has had some terrible times, times when maybe I should have helped her more for she is the mother of my only child and we were once great lovers, but she has come through, like I said she, has hurt fewer people than anybody I know, and if you look at it like that, well, she has created a better world. She has won. Frances, this poem is for you.” – Charles Bukowski
  98. “She knew what she wanted and it wasn’t me.” – Charles Bukowski
  99. ”I know this poet: he’s just like the rest of us: he’ll vomit anywhere for money.” – Charles Bukowski
  100. “That’s what they want: a God damned shows a lit billboard in the middle of hell. That’s what they want, that bunch of dull inarticulate safe, dreary admirers of carnivals.”– Charles Bukowski
  101. “And if you have the ability to love, love yourself first.” – Charles Bukowski
  102. “And nobody finds the one but they keep looking crawling in and out of beds.”
  103. ”I could have had her once. I wonder if she thinks I could have saved her?” – Charles Bukowski
  104. “They disgust me, the way they wait for death with as much passion as a traffic signal.” – Charles Bukowski
  105. ”Watching the bull get the matador, that’s the best.” – Charles Bukowski
  106. “I saw a beautiful blonde girl embrace a young man there and kiss him with what seemed hunger and I stood and watched until they broke away.” – Charles Bukowski
  107. ”When I think of myself dead, I think of someone making love to you when I’m not around.” – Charles Bukowski
  108. ”And you invented me and I invented you and that’s why we don’t get along.” – Charles Bukowski
  109. “There is always one woman to save you from another.” – Charles Bukowski
  110. ”We see it too late: after the cock gets swallowed the heart follows.” – Charles Bukowski
  111. ”She’s dot red hair like lightning from heaven.” – Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski Video

This brief clip captures the philosophy of Charles Bukowski and explains his approach.

Very much worth a watch – check it out!

Conclusion

To wrap up, Charles Bukowski is one of the most well known American authors of the recent era. When you are reading one of his books, or even his poems, nothing is off limits and you never quite know what he will do or say next. His style is so raw and real that it will make quite an impact on you.

Image Credit: Bukowski-by-origa.jpg: Origafoundationderivative work: –MGuf (d), CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

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