A poem that through the use of many effective poetic techniques, produces a bleak view of mankind’s future is, “Five Ways To Kill A Man” by Edwin Brock. Throughout, the poet uses word choice, striking imagery and sentence structure to effectively create a picture in our minds of how to complete that particular method of killing a man. The poem presents us with five “cumbersome” ways to kill a man and guides us through each way in a way which is like a “twisted cookbook” and leaves us with a dark reflection on mankind’s future.
In the poem, Brock presents us with the story of death, and instructions for killing throughout the ages, starting with the crucifixion of Jesus, moving on to medieval jousting, civil war battles, World War one, and World War two. At the end of the poem he presents us with the easy way to kill a man that is perhaps not so cumbersome. Using the five stanzas, the poet shows us that the biggest threat to the world is the world itself.
At the start of the poem, the poet surprises us by providing a list of ingredients needed to kill a man using a cross.
“You can make him carry a plank of wood to the top of a hill and nail him to it.”
Here, we clearly see that the references are particular to the death of a man on a cross; who we recognise as Jesus. Brock makes it obvious that he wants us to know exactly how to give a man this kind of death:
“To do this properly you need 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.”
He specifies here to the reader how to do this “properly”, as if he wants us to succeed. The phrase “one man to hammer the nails home” presents us with the sound of the nails being hammered in when read. This shows that the poet has really singled out the sections he wants to emphasise to us as readers, and in a way he is “hammering” home the message that man is a violent being.
As we move on to stanza two, we are presented with the poet taking us forward in time to medieval times with knights, horses, jousting and battles. In this stanza the tone seems quite light and celebratory as the poet continues to list the “ingredients” needed to kill a man. These ingredients bring mythical images to mind, of white horses and hero-like knights.
“… for this you need white horses, English trees, men with bows and arrows, at least two flags, a prince and a castle to hold your banquet in.
This set of “instructions” brings to mind scenes from movies like Robin Hood, with glorious white horses and “good” knights jousting for the royal’s pleasure. But this stanza still has the harsh and brutal killing of men riding towards each other hoping to be the victor for their own life’s sake. The use of the word “pierce” in terms of lancing through the armour leaves us with no doubt as to the real purpose, which is to kill.
As the poem moves forward again, we are brought within one hundred years of the present and given World Wars one and two in stanzas three and four. The first of the two stanzas, written about World War one, goes further into the brutality of the poem; “Dispensing with nobility” This suggests to us as readers that “Dispensing” is ambiguous in that it suggests the nobles have been killed off and that the poet is moving forward to the common man, who is the victim, in the main in the world wars. This also suggests that soldiers in World War one have no concern for the “fairness” or “sportsmanship” of war. The phrase also refers back to the earlier stanza that suggests the idea of dying with a sense of “dying for a cause” further on in this stanza we are presented with the suggestion of the first “weapon of mass destruction”, -the gas- which again highlights the “dispensing nobility” through the gas being used to kill a large number of enemies with not a lot of effort.
“… if the wind allows, blow gas at him.” This can suggest to us that the “glamour” of war has been lost and it is all about getting rid of as many people as possible, as if they were garbage using the first of the chemical weapons mentioned as ways to kill a man. Again, moving further through the stanza, we see the poet using harsher and more brutal words; “a mile of mud sliced through”. The word “sliced” suggests a horrible action in many different contexts. In this form though it could be highlighting the fact that the countryside is ruined. Unlike the other ways to kill a man, this one is the first one that has destroyed anything apart from man. The stanza also provides some false hope; “… a dozen songs” These songs are written in order to try to lift troop’s spirits and try to inspire them to remember that they are fighting for their Queen and country. The fact that the poet presents particularly violent and gruesome images in this stanza suggests the irony of this sentiment.
Moving into stanza four we are immediately shown that we have moved much closer to present time; “in an age of aeroplanes” This suggests, before we have even read past this point that some sort of bomb will be dropped. It also highlights the cowardly attitude adopted in warfare. Further on in this stanza there is the idea of the level of ease to destroy almost everything for several years.”…fly miles above your victim and dispose of him by pressing one small switch.” This suggests that it is extremely easy to complete this method of killing a man. It also highlights the fact that war is one hundred percent selfishness and anything must be done to “dispose of your victim”.
In the last stanza the writer refers back to the start of the poem to make a point about these ways being cumbersome; “these are, as I began, cumbersome ways to kill a man.” This suggests that the writer wants us to look at the point he is trying to make about all these methods being cumbersome and awkward. The last important point in the poem is used to show us that weapons are not the only way to kill a man. “Simpler, direct and much more neat is to see that he is living somewhere in the middle of the twentieth century, and leave him there.” This highlights that living in the twentieth century is, in itself, a death. Also, the writer highlights the point that no expensive, high powered weapons or foreign wars are needed to kill a man, all that is needed is a time when living through diseases like the plague and the first and second world wars will ensure that we wipe out thousands and risk our future.
Overall, through the effective use of sentence structure, word choice and striking imagery, Brock has presented a bleak view of our past and our future. He makes the reader reflect on how man must take account of our violent nature through the ages in order to consider how our future may be different.