You are on page 1of 1

Theme : Loss of humanity

(1) Write the summary of the poem.


(2) Discuss the theme of the poem.
(3)
Edwin Brocks Five Ways to Kill a Man is sharp, colloquial, shrewd, direct, humorous and highly original. The
unforgettable blend of the laconic and the serious in this poem is what became instantly recognisable as the Brock
voice and makes it his one of the most anthologised poems of the last three decades. It is among the best-known
poems of the twentieth century.
The poet satirically mocks at the dehumanisation of man (loss of humanity in mankind) with every passing era
which forms the main theme of the poem. It coldly but chronologically describes the different ways man has used,
from the ancient times till the twentieth century, to kill other human beings for his selfish motives. The
chronological reference to the events not only shows progressive inhumane character through the ages but also
shows that it was the final method, leaving a man to live in the twentieth century, was the most cruel and
torturous.
Mans inborn natural instinct is to fight, to kill and to destroy. The methods he has used include crucifixion, lancing,
gassing, bombing and neglecting him to die passively on his own. Therefore, wars are an innate but obsolete part
of human nature. Each stanza of the poem deals with one method of killing and each one further creates a
distance between the killer and the victim, till in the last stanza there remains neither the killer nor the victim, but
only a living death.
In the first stanza, the poet says that there are many cumbersome, that is, complicated (here) ways to kill a man.
One can make the victim carry a long piece of wooden cross to the top of a hill
It alludes to crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It was an unwieldy and clumsy method to torture and kill him.
The second stanza describes the wars fought for the sake of crown and honour in the medieval age. It is a
reference to the Wars of Roses (1455 1485), a series of dynastic wars fought between the House of Lancaster and
York, for the throne of England.
The third stanza moves on to the First World War. The poet says that this period did not require
The fourth stanza is an allusion to the modern day warfare with the advent of the much more technologically
advanced weapon systems like the aeroplane and the atomic bomb. It shows the reader how easy it is to kill and
how little thought it takes. He says that such warfare required one to fly above the heads of the victims and killing
them without ever having known or seen them. This is an obvious reference to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima
and Nagasaki in Japan by the USA during the Second World War. He says that this required an ocean to separate
you referring to the cultural gap between America and Japan; two systems of government, referring to the
difference in the administrative systems of the two countries;
In the last stanza of the poem, the poet argues that the methods described in the first four stanzas were all too
cumbersome to kill a man and these ways need not be adopted. He criticises the era of twentieth century by
saying that far simpler, direct and much more neat method was to leave the victim to live somewhere in the
middle of the twentieth century. There is neither killer nor victim, but just a living death. Here, the poet is referring
to the miserable conditions after the Second World War which overwrought the twentieth century, which included
poverty, hunger, malnutrition, diseases, religious intolerance and joblessness. In such conditions, man has been
inflicted with pain everyday in order to survive and in doing so, he was dying a slow death.

Related Interests