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Five Ways to Kill a Man Essay

This poem is divided into 5 different stanzas, all of which involve different ways to die. The poem is written rather coldly and treats death as an everyday issue, while the rest try not to think of such things. It is very dispassionate about life. The final stanza is also a political comment to challenge our thought processes toward our everyday life. The first paragraph starts with a line that hooks into your brain, “There are many cumbersome ways to kill a man.” This is not a sentence you hear every day, and because of that, my subconscious automatically tries to picture someone saying those words.

In my imagination, I picture a dark character speaking that sentence as if to talk of experience. This very quickly gives me a sense of darkness and fear towards the poem. The first stanza then goes on to talk about carrying planks of wood and nailing someone to it. This is a reference to crucifixion. This stanza adds gruesome detail to the scene using phrases like “some vinegar, and one man to hammer.” It’s clever how the writer mentions insignificant details to make the picture complete. Each word is like a brush touching the canvas that is our minds.

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The second stanza then gives you a series of ” hard” words to give a cold rock-like image in our minds. Words like “steel” and “cage” project clinical, unmerciful thoughts in our heads. All these references are to that of battle in medieval times. We now get a sense the writer is going through methods of death chronologically. The Dark Age details continue with talk of ” white horses, English trees, a prince, and a castle.”  This next scene is a lot grungier and dirty in its vocabulary. The first line refers to “nobility,” creating a hope figure amongst the bleak and horrible scenes that we have become accustomed to.

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This reference then gets blown away in our minds quite cruelly, as we realize this stanza is about the First World War, and as you should know, the “noble” heroes died there. So this eradicates whatever hopes we had of this poem ending well. The stanza then describes the condition of the trenches during the war, “a mile of mud sliced through with ditches,” and then mentions, “More mud, a plague of rats, and some round hats of steel.” This bleak outlook depresses us further.

“In an age of aeroplanes, you may fly” This moves us to a new section of time. The reference to aeroplanes shows the technological advancements that happened during the world war two era. The line “dispose of him by pressing one small switch” refers to the atom bomb being dropped, but the writer has subtly phrased this sentence to sound effortless, as if taking a life is just a matter of moving your finger slightly, yet another bleak sentence. Other lines include the opposing forces “Two systems of government,” the work during the war “several factories,” and the after affects of war “a psychopath and a land that no-one needs for several years”.

The next stanza then goes to the present, and it claims to keep a person in the world (in the state it is in now), could kill a man alone. This leaves us with a to be continued type message, in other words it’s saying the killing hasn’t stopped yet and doubts whether it ever will. The poem casually lists the world’s most horrific tragedies and then suggests that we have more still yet to go. The bleak outlook I find likeable, because it is honest, has a message and great depths. I believe this poem describes the bitter nature of humans and how we could be the cause of the apocalypse.