The Poem

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 496

“The Twins” is a forty-three-line poem written in free verse and loosely divided into four parts, within which there are several stanzaic forms. The title is not intended to help readers anticipate the matter of the poem; rather, it facilitates a moment of unanticipated recognition in the last quarter when one realizes that the twins alluded to are in fact the poet and the poet’s father.

Many readers will recognize the familiar division between a parent and child, where, as in this case, father and son rebuke each other for not honoring the other’s values. The father wants the son to honor mother, country, and right behavior, and the son wants the father to be less somber and to learn to enjoy life. This state of affairs remains the same until the father dies.

The past tense, used in the first part or stanza, reflects the poet’s memory of the problem between them. The rest of the poem is written in the present tense, which supports the “here and now” of his dutiful inspection of his father’s personal effects. He sees “dead shoes,” “dead cigarettes,” and the “last bed he slept in.” He is temporarily heartened to see that the manner of his father’s death (“in the kitchen at 7 am/ while others are frying eggs”) was not such a bad way to go, unless it had been his own death, and the poet then is faced with his own mortality.

That unhappy thought sends him outdoors, and the third stanza finds Charles Bukowski examining life outside his father’s house. He picks an orange, notices the growing grass, a barking dog, people peeking at him from behind closed doors, and the life-sustaining sun in the sky. The estranged son’s reputation as a scoundrel apparently preceded him, for he finds himself to be a stranger in this neighborhood. He hears that what might have been his own legacy was left to some “woman in Duarte,” but Bukowski does not “give a damn” because the undeniable, central point at hand is that his father died. The consequences beyond his own personal grief are of no interest to him.

Faced again with the simple, awful fact of his father’s death, his last respects are paid in the fourth section by donning one of his father’s coats and “flapping the arms like a scarecrow in the wind.” It is a bizarre image that secures the notion of the twins as ironic, for the father and son seem to be more dissimilar than similar. They may have looked “exactly alike,” but they were also estranged by virtue of their differences, and now the remaining “twin” is unable to walk in the other’s footsteps, or wear his coat. The image of the scarecrow, the surrogate watchman over a field of corn, ushers in the dreadful realization that not even the heartfelt disdain that bound the two together is adequate to keep him alive.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 556

Free verse is free in that it does not force the poet’s ideas into a prearranged metrical or rhymed pattern, but it is not so free that the poet can forget rhythm and stress altogether. To do that would indeed leave the world with prose. Rhythmic movement either assists or impedes the advance of the narrative. In “The Twins,” the uncontrollable nature of grief is reflected in the relatively fluid nature of free verse.

The opening section of the poem depicts a tired argument, one that has been rehearsed over and over, and it is jammed together in a rush of prose. The second...

(This entire section contains 556 words.)

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and third stanzas consist of long lines, each of which generally addresses advancing points in the narrative: “I move through . . .”; “I go outside. . . .” Images of life (seeds, bulbs) and of death (scarecrow) mingle uneasily; at the end of each of the four sections, the poet sees the stark reality of death, and the verse in each stanza shrinks, leaving death conspicuously alone. “He was my old/ man/ and he died.” The line lengths shorten relentlessly until in the fourth section there are three stanzas of progressively fewer lines. The poem ends with two syllables: “to die.” This gradual constriction of the line reinforces this inevitable final unadorned act of life.

The figure of the twins, while standing literally for the father and son, also stands for the old and the new, the traditional and the contemporary. The poem is an elegy, a modern rendering of an ancient form. A common characteristic of the elegy is expressions of melancholy at the loss of a close friend, as seen in John Milton’s “Lycidas.” The Christian elegy often ponders the justice of the loss, the mortality of the poet, and it reiterates consolations, often of a life hereafter, as seen in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Adonais (1821) and Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s In Memorium (1850).

It has already been noted that Bukowski mourns the death of his father and faces his own mortality. What of justice and consolation, though? In this little poem one century later, Bukowski seems to be Tennyson’s literary heir. In In Memorium, Tennyson consoled himself by maintaining a kind of blind faith in a God who was made less apparent by the advances of scientific knowledge (“believing where we cannot prove”). He saw a clockwork universe running by its own rules and a sun in that universe that was burning out.

There is no God in Bukowski’s world, and few illusions, but he finds consolation in life itself, in the bright skin of an orange, growing grass, and any living thing. When he looks up “the sun sends down its rays circled by a Russian satellite.” This sun is the life giver and sustainer and is in no danger of diminishing. That satellite, however, was the successor to the great explorations of the past, and it was the product of the industrial and scientific revolutions of the nineteenth century that so dismayed Tennyson. The launch of Sputnik in 1957 fostered the worst fears of the Cold War in America. Amid fears of Russian expansionism, Americans imagined unparalleled terrors with Russia ruling the skys. Given the horrors of modern technology and modern warfare, one might begin to see why listening to Hector Berlioz and drinking could be a less painful alternative.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 139

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