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POISONED TALK

By Raymond Wilson

Who killed cock robin?
I, said the worm,
I did him great harm.
He died on the branch of a withered tree
From the acid soil that poisoned me.

Who killed the heron?
I, mouthed the fish,
With my tainted flesh
I killed tern, duck and drake,
All the birds of the lake.

Who killed the lake?
I, boasted Industry,
I poisoned with mercury
Fish, plant and weed
To pamper mens’ greed.

Who killed the flowers?
I, moaned the wind,
I prowl unconfined,
Blowing acid rain
Over field, flood and fen.

Who killed the forest?
I ensured that it died,
Said sulphur dioxide.
And all life within it,
From earthworm to linnet.
SUMMARY
Stanza 1
The narrator demands to know who killed cock robin. A cock robin is a male bird. The robin
is common in England. The worm replies and confesses that he is the one responsible for the
death of cock robin. The worm describes where the bird died on the branch of a tree. The cause
of his death is poisoning. The bird ate the worm which is poisonous. The worm is poisonous
because he was poisoned by the ‘acid soil’. Acid soil is toxic and it is harmful to plants and
trees. That is why the tree where cock robin died is ‘a withered tree’, meaning the tree is dry
and weak.

Stanza 2
The narrator asks who killed the heron (a large bird that feeds on fish). The fish confesses to
killing the heron. The fish killed the heron when the bird fed on his poisoned flesh. The word
‘tainted’ means contaminated of polluted. The fish says that he killed all the birds of the lake
including the tern, duck and drake.

Stanza 3
The narrator wants to know who killed the lake. ‘Industry’ boasts that he killed the lake. The
word ‘boasted’ tell us that ‘Industry’ is not sorry for killing the lake, but is proud of it. ‘Industry’
explains how he killed the lake. He poisoned the fish, weeds and the plants in the lake with
mercury. Mercury is a very poisonous substance. It is released into the environment through
industrial processes and careless disposal of industrial waste. ‘Industry’ says that he poisoned
the lake to pleased ‘greedy men’. The word ‘men’ refers to mankind, people, you and I (people
who do not want to spend money to dispose of hazardous industrial waste properly because
they want more profits). The real reason for the death of the lake is men’s greed.

Stanza 4
Next, the narrator asks who killed the flowers. The wind confesses to the crime. The word
‘moaned’ tells us that the wind is sad. The word ‘prowl’ tells us that the wind moves around
like an animal looking for prey. The word ‘unconfined’ means freely. The winds explain that
he killed the flowers by carrying acid rain over the land, be it cultivated field, flooded carrying
acid rain over the land, be it cultivated field, flooded land or wetlands (fen). Like acid soil, acid
rain destroys plants.
Stanza 5
The narrator wants to know who killed the forest. Sulphur dioxide answers that he made sure
the forest died along with all the wildlife and creatures that dwell in it. Sulphur dioxide is a
smelly gas or liquid produced through industrial processes and the burning of coal and
petroleum. It dissolves in water to form acid. Air polluted by sulphur dioxide turns rain into
acid rain, which is harmful to plants and wildlife. Sulphur dioxide says that he killed all life
from the earthworm to linnet (a small European bird). This covers all living creatures. It tells
us how powerful and lethal sulphur dioxide.

SETTINGS
1. Countryside
- Where all kinds of animals and plants live.
2. England and Europe
- Where birds like robins, terns, herons, ducks and linnets are commonly found.
3. Not far from the industrial area
- Which polluted the place.
4. 20th century
- Scientists only began studying the effects of acid rain in the late 1960s.

TONE
Ironic and Sombre
The character that confess to the killings in each verse are not the real killers. The poet uses
irony to draw attention to the truth, that humans are the real killers. For example, in the first
stanza, the worm confesses that he killed cock robin. Ironically, the worm himself is twice a
victim, first, he was poisoned by the acid soil. Then, he was eaten by the bird.

THEMES
1. Environmental Pollution
Men are willing to destroy our mother nature for more money and power. The factories,
cars and other vehicles release poisonous gas and substances like mercury. This pollutes
the lake and the flora and fauna in it.
2. Destruction of Nature
Nature has flora and fauna. They affect one another. When the lake gets polluted, the
fish that lives in it will get poisoned. When the birds eat the fishes, the birds get
poisoned. Also, if the wind is polluted, it brings the poisonous gas everywhere; all
plants will wither and die. In the end, it destroys our mother nature.

MORAL VALUES
1. We must be responsible for the things we do.
2. We must take actions to stop pollutions.
3. We must respect nature.
4. We must protect our environment.
5. We must not be too greedy. (for money and power)
A. Fill in the blanks with the words given.

confession man question pollution
crime environment death

The poem Poisoned Talk by Raymond Wilson is about the lethal effects of pollution on
the (1) ______________. Each verse begins with a (2) _____________ about who is
responsible for the (3) _____________ of an element of nature. This is followed by a (4)
______________ by the guilty party. The culprit explains how he committed the (5)
______________. From his explanation, we realise the death was caused by (6)
______________. The real killer is (7) _______________, polluted the earth.

B. Answer the following questions on the poem.

1. How does the worm kill cock robin?
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2. How does Industry feel about killing the lake?
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3. Name two poisonous substances mentioned in the poem.
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4. Do you think the fish should be blamed for the death of the birds of the lake? Give
a reason for your answer.
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5. Cock robin and the birds of the lake died of the same cause. What is the cause of
their deaths?
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6. Who took the blame for killing the flowers?
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7. What did sulphur dioxide destroy?
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8. In your opinion, why did the poet write this poem? Give a reason for your answer.
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9. Describe your feelings about pollution after reading this poem.
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