Did Charles Bukowski Really Say, "Find What You Love and Let it Kill You?"

Categories: Poetry

One of the memes annoying me on Facebook
UPDATE: When this article originally ran we failed to credit the creator of the above image, Richard Tito. See more of his art here.

If you've been on Facebook in the last several months then you've probably seen the quote, "Find what you love and let it kill you." It's usually attributed to the drunken brilliance of poet Charles Bukowski. The question is, is it a legit quote?

This came up because the quote is the title of the latest EP from Linus Pauling Quartet. Singer Ramon Medina contacted me regarding the quote, asking that I use some journalism powers to try and confirm the origin before he told everyone that Bukowski was not the source as Facebook memes would have us believe. Together we did some digging.

Supposedly, the quote is from one of Bukowski's numerous letters, and reads...

My dear,

Find what you love and let it kill you. Let it drain from you your all. Let it cling onto your back and weigh you down into eventual nothingness. Let it kill you, and let it devour your remains.

For all things will kill you, both slowly and fastly, but it's much better to be killed by a lover.

Falsely yours,
Henry Charles Bukowski"

It's worth noting that this question has been earnestly (And somewhat venomously) debated on Bukowski forums. These are people that know the work of the poet far better than I, but I did decide to spend a day looking through he letter archive on Bukowski.net. There are well over 100 preserved letters on the site in pdf form, and I looked at every single one. The letter doesn't appear there, and if it appears in any of the books of Bukowski's letters then none of his fans have been able to find it.

One forum user offered a "signed, numbered Black Sparrow Bukowski book, along with a hundred dollar bill to use as a bookmark" to anyone that can produce proof of the quote. The prize has not been claimed.

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I know at least ten men who his character and this quote tattooed on various parts of the body. And I always knew that he never said nor wrote that, since I'm a big of and quite sick fan of Buk.


Hey all, @bukquotes just posted this on FB and is selling hats and t-shirts. When I asked about were the money is going, I was deleted. Just so you know...

MadMac topcommenter

~Sigh~ this happens so often and I've been guilty of it as well.  You either learn to let go of "what someone said," and grown from the the truth or you wallow in your ignorance. Totally ascribing something to someone--no matter how pretty it might be to think they said it--with out clear-cut citation is as wrong as lifting something from someone without citing the original. It's an assassination of character.

I'm no Bukowski fan but the little I've read of his work, he always struck me as pragmatist and not prone to romance.


@MadMac  I found him such a pragmatic, desperate and intense romantic. There is nothing wistful about this quote and is in fact rather bleak....though I would liken it to french romantics at first sight...

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