The Great Escape (Charles Bukowski)

I love the work of Charles Bukowski. He is not to everyone’s liking though, as his writing is very real, raw and uncensored. This particular poem is about taking control of our lives, taking risks and not letting others hold us back.

This is an autobiographical poem, using the crab analogy. When crabs are placed in a bucket together, despite each one being healthy and able to escape, they work together to ensure that this doesn’t happen. They grab at each other and hold each other back, ensuring that all of their fates are sealed. In much the same way as with the crabs, this happens in our personal and professional lives. Well meaning people will often try to discourage us from our dreams and plans.

In this poem, Bukowski revisits the moment in which he made the life-changing decision,  to leave his job in the US Postal Service. Ignoring the naysayers and doubters, the poet took a leap of faith and left a steady job. As a result , he now had the time and space to create more of his gritty, truthful, unapologetic and challenging poetry and prose.

It was so easy it was unbelievable, but none of the others followed me….” This is a lonely, liberating moment most innovators have to take in order to achieve their goals.

There is a tinge of regret as he reflects on how easy it was for him to leave a job in which he felt trapped, but that nobody else followed his lead.

The message that I hope you will take from this poem is that if you really want something, you have to be willing to take a risk. Ignore the doubters who may have their own reasons or agendas, and be prepared to go it alone.


listen, he said, you ever seen a bunch of crabs in a
no, I told him.
well, what happens is that now and then one crab
will climb up on top of the others
and begin to climb toward the top of the bucket,
then, just as he’s about to escape
another crab grabs him and pulls him back
really? I asked.
really, he said, and this job is just like that, none
of the others want anybody to get out of
here. that’s just the way it is
in the postal service!
I believe you, I said.
just then the supervisor walked up and said,
you fellows were talking.
there is no talking allowed on this
I had been there for eleven and one-half
I got up off my stool and climbed right up the
and then I reached up and pulled myself right
out of there.
it was so easy it was unbelievable.
but none of the others followed me.
and after that, whenever I had crab legs
I thought about that place.
I must have thought about that place
maybe 5 or 6 times
before I switched to lobster.

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