“The Genius of the Crowd”
there is enough treachery, hatred violence absurdity in the average
human being to supply any given army on any given day
and the best at murder are those who preach against it
and the best at hate are those who preach love
and the best at war finally are those who preach peace
those who preach god, need god
those who preach peace do not have peace
those who preach love do not have love
beware the preachers
beware the knowers
beware those who are always reading books
beware those who either detest poverty
or are proud of it
beware those quick to praise
for they need praise in return
beware those who are quick to censor
they are afraid of what they do not know
beware those who seek constant crowds for
they are nothing alone
beware the average man the average woman
beware their love, their love is average
but there is genius in their hatred
there is enough genius in their hatred to kill you
to kill anybody
not wanting solitude
not understanding solitude
they will attempt to destroy anything
that differs from their own
not being able to create art
they will not understand art
they will consider their failure as creators
only as a failure of the world
not being able to love fully
they will believe your love incomplete
and then they will hate you
and their hatred will be perfect
like a shining diamond
like a knife
like a mountain
like a tiger
their finest art
Charles Bukowski was a German born poet, novelist, and short story writer. His writing was influenced by the realistic happenings around him, from poverty, writing, alcohol (of which he was fluent), relationships, and the sorrow of work. He had written thousands of poems, hundreds of stories, and six novels. His column in an underground newspaper had gotten him a file with the FBI! In his more popular works, he displays a free verse style. His poems are riddled with the ramblings of a drunken, failed philosopher, yet they are among the greatest of all time.
Free Verse: poetry that does not rhyme or have a regular meter.
Charles Bukowski is fluent with his ability in writing free verse. This poem is no exception. The lack of meter and rhyme makes the poem much more powerful and more of a statement. Short, heavy lines create breaks in the flow of verse that slow the reader’s pace. The long lines produce the effect of barely controlled energy that seems to burst through the limits of traditional line lengths.
The poetry of Charles Bukowski can not be taken lightly. His poetry is the type that makes you sit back and stare at your computer screen, unable to process what you’ve just read. Part of that is due to the truth of his words. He doesn’t pointlessly use words. Every line, spacing, word, capitalization, serves a purpose meant to impact the reader. The first time you read “the Genius of the Crowd,” I guarantee that you will experience an out-of-body feeling.
This poem is amazing. Words do not do it justice. Even the opening line is incredibly thought-provoking! Given this, there are many ways to interpret it.
One way calls out that a person’s greatest attribute, or most passionate feeling, actually gives away their most deafening, flawed, characteristic. Those who hate war? They secretly crave it. Those who say they hate poverty? They wish it upon others. This mentality is terrifying. Could everything we ever say secretly reveal what we actually believe? Do we actually mean what we say when we say it?
This poem constantly talks about being “average,” and how we must beware it. There is also lots of mention of “hatred” and “hate.” Hatred appears to be the substitute for an average man’s creativity and ability to create art. Their hatred is their feeble attempt to make up for their average-ness. Hatred is an emotion that we can feel without any effort, and it can cause us to be so sure of ourselves. It is an art that all humans can create, but it is still a blind alley. However, at a distance, you realize how “perfect” hatred really is. All throughout history, hatred has trumped art. It has killed, maimed, and tortured. It is the most successful emotion is creating chaos, in claiming lives.
In this poem, Bukowski calls out the hypocrites. He calls out the preachers who are in need of being preached to. The lovers need love. The most needed, internal, aspect of a person is that which they subconsciously propel outwards.
The people who are constantly surrounding themselves with crowds can do nothing on their own. This is a most peculiar thought, because one would expect that those in crowds can flourish alone. But the truth is that those whose constantly surround themselves with people do so in order to hide away from their own hatred, which is most likely aimed at themselves. The same can be said about those who are quick to praise. They are those who “need praise in return.” The pattern here is that a person’s hatred of aspects of themselves, being their reliance on company or inability to give themselves praise, is something they try to seek out through focusing that insecurity outwards.
What is so amazing about this poem is that it is aimed at pointing out the flaws in human emotions, but it isn’t a rant. It is so packed full of truth that you can pick out bits of yourself in it. This poem is obviously about hatred, but it portrays hatred as a genius-like emotion. Once it has filled someone up, he or she is genius of his or her own destruction. Hatred can only get you so far, but only when its energy is drained can one create.
In this visual, “the genius of the crowd” is scrambled all over a laughing man’s face (this is actually Bukowski). At first, this picture is disturbing. What strikes me about this image is its use of irony. The man is laughing, which gives an impression of joy and exuberance; however, that powerful happy emotion is overshot by the eeriness of the image. This man represents in a way what it means to be a genius. He is laughing, and we can assume that it is towards a funny entity; however, we know that to be false. The point of this image is to evoke the unknown source of his laughter. His laughter is a symbol of the “treachery” in any given human being at any given time. We look at this man and see a smile, but we cannot begin to know that of which he finds amusing. It may not be wise to eventually come to know. One of the most prominent themes in the poem is how false personas are and can be. This laughing man is the embodiment of the message of the poem: that the genius of the crowd is the most disturbed.