Discuss the theme of the poem, ‘Five Ways to Kill a Man’ by Edwin Brock
“Five Ways to Kill a Man” by Edwin Brock mocks at the dehumanization of man. The poem is written in a simple language to describe the different ways to kill a man. The words are used cold and blunt.
The main theme of the poem is the loss of humanity in mankind with every passing era. Man has an natural instinct to fight, kill and to destroy. The poem describes the various ways man has devised since ancient times to take lives of his fellow human beings for his own selfish motives.
Each stanza of the poem deals with one killing method of man that is inflicted on the other. The very first stanza of the poem, ‘Five Ways to Kill a Man’ begins with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. A whole crowd walks up a hill as they force him to carry the cross upon his back. Jesus was nailed to the cross and the cross was then pulled erect. Later on, Christ was asked to remove his cloak, so that he would not be able to have a proper burial and his corpse would be left on top of the hill semi-clad. Christ was tortured in many ways. When Christ asked for water, they gave him sponge soaked in vinegar tied to a rod which they put into his mouth. Eventually, Jesus died and they waited there and watched him die.
The first stanza has dark undertones of sarcasm in it. The method used to torture him and kill him are termed as ‘cumbersome’ by the poet. The sheer lack of humanity on the part of the crowd which watches a man brutally crucified is portrayed in the first stanza.
The second stanza moves to the medieval age. There, the knights foolishly slaughtered each other with hook axes and hammers which could pierce the armour with ease. They rode and faced the opponents on white horses, attacking them with swords, ready to kill or to be killed.Similarly, crowns used to go on conquering sprees, fighting huge wars to annex small kingdoms. Two countries would go to war and thousands o f people would die on both sides, before one prince would emerge as ‘victorious.’ Then the prince would throw a banquet, celebrating his victory and the deaths of the numerous people he killed.
The poet then moves on to the topic of World Wars in which it was lot easier to kill due to the advent of science. The use of atomic bombs which can kill millions and millions of people just with the touch of a button. . In 1915, the British used gas cylinders on the Germans. The poet then refers to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan by the USA during the Second World War.
This horrible act of mass killing was executed by a ‘psychopath’ possibly referring to the then President of the USA, Harry S. Truman who authorized the bombing on Japan. ‘Land that no one needs for several years’ is a reference to regions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which were completely destroyed by the effects of radiation. In the final stanza, the poet argues that there is no need to adopt cumbersome ways of killing men in the 20th century. This era is already infested with diseases, destitution, accidents, wars and hatred which is enough to kill a person.
Through ‘Five Ways to Kill a Man’, Edwin Brock conveys the message of how man dehumanizes himself as he progresses. Man has made life comfortable by inventing more and more scientific technology, at the same time, he is also acquiring new methods to make killing more easier. Every single day children die of diseases, malnutrition, people become victims of joblessness, poverty, hunger and religious conflicts. Thus, the poem highlights the fact that man changes with time and his reasons for his killing too.