Original poem reprinted online here: "Five Ways to Kill a Man" by Edwin Brock
Originally read: April 23, 2013
More information about the Poet: Edwin Brock
"Humorous -- reads like a recipe. The list goes more absurd then the
last being poignant" This is how past me starts out, but there's the
interplay of the humor which slightly turn cynical, but the focus is
always a man in war which can branch off to society or ethics or what
not -- no the indivudal -- the five ways to kill a man happens with each
In the first stanza there's an allusion to
crucifixion with the lines, "You can make him carry a plank of wood / to
the top of a hill and nail him to it." And here is more of the "result"
lines, here's the recipe, "you require a crowd of people / wearing
sandals, a cock that crows, a cloak to dissect, a sponge, some vinegar,
and one / man to hammer the nails home." Note how this list is
expansive at first then goes down to the individual. Also note that the
reason I think there is humor here is the structure and not necessarily
the content. "one /man to hammer the nails home" has more of a cynical
I remember when I first read this poem that
teach stanza had an allusion and I didn't know where each one went. I
did look it up and found the answers here at Bytes Daily. Are the allusions to the times important to this poem. Yes, actually, because the speaker is commenting on both the history as a thought of the past, and the actual actions that took place.
The second stanza is based on the War of Roses, and there's a medieval feel to how the person dies, "attempt to pierce the metal cage he wears" also note that the ambiguous creates openings for different ideas of interpretation -- physical cage, mental cage, spiritual cage. Also in this stanza the specificity of "English" trees brings more a political slant, along with the whole, " a prince, and a / castle to hold your banquet in." My automatic response of why a prince is not a man -- well -- for the time frame, they were above man with their "nobility" -- the the actuality killing versus the romanticized version of killing.
The romantic, if it wasn't before, is thrown out quite frankly with, "Dispensing with nobility, you may, if the wind / allows blow gas at him." Yes, there's a lot of gas allusions and war, but this one, I believe refers to World War I because of the gas goes through, "ditches." But before I go further, I want to write about the "you" the speaker is referring to. I think he's talking about the ubiquitous concept of death and killing, and partially to the audience as though giving a sardonic lecture about death. And here's what you need to kill this man in this time frame "more mud, a plague of rates, a dozen songs / and some round hats made of steel." The ambitiousness of songs interests me because they could be "propaganda songs" or "eulogy" or "anti-war" -- any style and I think they'd fit in context.
The fourth stanza focuses on on World War II and focuses on the idea of "small switch"" as in a small thing that has great impact -- look how expansive the list gets from "an ocean to separate you," to a "psychopath" and lastly a very visceral line that combines the two ideas -- "land that no-one needs for several years."
With the progression of time, there's the expectation of the speaker talk about the present. And how the form works, the length of the last stanza, to me, works the same way as the last two lines of an Elizabethan sonnet that there will be great change in something because of the length of the stanza (4 lines) and the progression of the poem.
And the first change is the speaker is self-referential and more judgmental, "These are, as I began, cumbersome ways / to kill a man" also the humor slightly comes back due to the brevity and language, "Simpler, direct, and much more neat."
Then the last two lines, "is to see that he is living somewhere in the middle / of the twentieth century, and leave him there." There's a sense of the "Unknown Citizen" here but with a broader application. Note how the man is left behind as though he is forgotten, but it's not his existence that is forgotten rather the circumstances to learn from (and then forget).