Critical Analysis of Five Ways to Kill a Man:
“Five Ways to Kill a Man” is a highly ironic poem. Of course, no murderer would ever confess his intentions openly, and no common man would advise him on methods of killing either. What the poet is trying to show is how ruthless man has been from time immemorial. He has never hesitated to kill. Even such a great man as Christ had been killed by those who did not agree with his vision. They never understood the fact that Christ was trying to save their souls, and so they crucified him. Not only did man not hesitate to kill, he, in fact, celebrated the killing of others. This is seen in the jousting that happened in medieval England between the knights of rival houses, and how their victory was celebrated in the form of a banquet thrown by the prince of the winning house. Victory became so important to the man that he could go to any lengths to achieve it. He could live in underground trenches and bear the ravages of the bubonic plague in order to win a war. He did not hesitate to release poisonous gas on his opponents if that would ensure victory. Finally, man developed technologies to move from harm’s way and bring doom only upon the people of another nation. Man relied on his differences to justify this mass murder. However, all these active ways to kill men do not compare to life in the middle of the 20th century. The man has made the world such a bad place to live in that his world itself is turning upon him and killing him. Post-WWII, man’s own activities have given rise to poverty, unemployment, and hunger so that man has no way of escaping from the clutches of death. Thus, man has been served a taste of his own medicine.
Stanza-wise Annotation of Five Ways to Kill a Man:
Please note: N= noun, V=verb, Adj=Adjective, Adv=Adverb, P=Preposition
Cumbersome (Adj): Slow or complicated and therefore inefficient
Plank (N): A long, thin, flat piece of timber, used especially in building and flooring
Nail (V): Fasten with a nail or nails
Sandals (N): Plural form of the word “sandal”, that is, a light shoe with either an openwork upper or straps attaching the sole to the foot
Crows (V): Third person present tense of the word “crow”, that is, (of a cock) utter its characteristic loud cry
Cloak (N): Something serving to hide or disguise something
Dissect (V): Analyse (a text or idea) in minute detail
Chased (V): Past tense of the word “chase”, that is, to engrave (metal, or a design on metal)
Traditional (Adj): Produced, done, or used in accordance with tradition or long-established beliefs and practices
Pierce (V): (Of a sharp pointed object) go into or through (something)
Banquet (N): An elaborate and formal evening meal for many people
Dispensing (V): Present participle form of the word “dispense”, that is, to manage without or get rid of
Nobility (N): The quality of being noble in character
Ditches (N): Plural form of the word “ditch”, that is, a narrow channel dug at the side of a road or field, to hold or carry away water
Craters (N): Plural form of the word “crater”, that is, a cavity or hole in any surface
Plague (N): An unusually large number of insects or animals infesting a place and causing damage
Victim (N): A person harmed, injured, or killed as a result of a crime, accident, or other event or action
Dispose (V): Get rid of by throwing away or giving or selling to someone else
Psychopath (N): A person suffering from chronic mental disorder with abnormal or violent social behavior
Neat (Adj): Arranged in a tidy way; in good order
Poetic Devices in Five Ways to Kill a Man:
The poet does not follow any identifiable rhyme scheme in this poem.
This rhetorical device is used when a poet addresses his or her poem to an absent audience. In this poem, the poet uses the device of the apostrophe as he addresses his words to every single man on earth, for he feels that mankind has become very ruthless and apathetic to the loss of human lives.
This rhetorical device is used when a covert comparison is made between two different things or ideas. In this poem, the poet uses the device of metaphor in the w3rd line of the 2nd stanza when he compares the armor of a soldier with a cage made of metal that is holding him captive and not letting him escape so that he is forced to fight for the sake of his superiors only.
This rhetorical device consists of the substitution of the name of an attribute or adjunct for that of the thing meant. In this poem, the poet uses the device of metonymy in the 6th line of the 2nd stanza when he writes the phrase “two flags” to mean two groups opposed to each other and engaging in a war against each other.
A rhetorical device for conveying a harsh or unpalatable idea pleasantly or indirectly. In this poem, the poet uses the device of euphemism in the 2nd line of the 4th stanza when he writes the phrase “dispose of” in place of the more direct “kill”.
Central Idea of Five Ways to Kill a Man:
There are five ways to kill a man, according to the poet. You can crucify him, kill him in armed warfare, gas him or drop an atomic bomb on him. However, the simpler and neater way to kill a man would be to make sure that he is living in the post-WWII era. That way the man would die naturally without anyone else’s active involvement. The world is in such a bad state that no man can survive these trying times.
Themes of Five Ways to Kill a Man:
Horrors of the past:
The poet clearly spells out what horrors man has been capable off in the past. Crucifixion, jousting, gas warfare, and atomic bombing are all shocking heights to which man has gone in his attempts to kill others who he feels are different from himself. The point to note here is that with each method of killing described by the poet the numbers of murdered men are increasing. From a single man’s crucifixion, we come to one-on-one combat, where there are one or two deaths in each match. In gas warfare, the number increases to entire squadrons, and finally, in atomic bombing, entire cities are wiped out at the push of a switch. Man is becoming steadily more and more ruthless.
Horrors of the present:
Previously man could depend on other men to save his life in extenuating circumstances. However, after the World Wars, the man could no longer depend on anyone other than himself. No man came to another’s aid to fight the after-effects of WWII. Poverty, malnutrition, and joblessness killed every man alive on earth while others just watched him die. Hence, living in the 1950s ensures a clean and easy death. This is the 5th and least complicated method of killing, according to the poet.
The Tone of Five Ways to Kill a Man:
The prevalent tone of this poem is one of irony. The poet is not seriously advising anyone on the methods of killing. He is simply telling us that the world has been turned into a horrible place through man’s own actions, and now man has to pay the price himself.
“Five Ways to Kill a Man” is a unique poem. Not too many poems have been written on the subject of ruthless murder. It also manages to evoke a sense of guilt in readers. They feel sad to be a part of the human race, knowing that their fellow men have committed such heinous crimes. The poet’s hidden message is that man must change his ways, and this message is definitely not lost to readers.