Edwin Brock was a British poet who wrote two of the best known poems of the last century: Five Ways to Kill A Man, and Song of the Battery Hen.
What strikes me the most about Edwin’s life is that he was born into a working class family with no literary aspirations. It was quite perchance that he was inspired to write poetry after picking up a chapbook in Hong Kong as 18 year old waiting to be de-mobbed from the Navy at the end of World War II.
Edwin Brock (1927-1977)
There are many cumbersome ways to kill a man.
You can make him carry a plank of wood
to the top of a hill and nail him to it.
To do this properly you require 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.
Or you can take a length of steel,
shaped and chased in a traditional way,
and attempt to pierce the metal cage he wears.
But 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.
Dispensing with nobility, you may, if the wind
allows, blow gas at him. But then you need
a mile of mud sliced through with ditches,
not to mention black boots, bomb craters,
more mud, a plague of rats, a dozen songs
and some round hats made of steel.
In an age of aeroplanes, you may fly
miles above your victim and dispose of him by
pressing one small switch. All you then
require is an ocean to separate you, two
systems of government, a nation’s scientists,
several factories, a psychopath and
land that no-one needs for several years.
These are, as I began, cumbersome ways 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 poem grips me from its title right on to the end. In five stanzas Brock outlines five different ways of killing someone. If you will notice, each is more advanced historically and each is more deadly than the one before:
- Jesus’s crucifixion,
- The War of the Roses,
- WW2/atomic bombs,
- The twentieth century.
Brock also skillfully shows us how each one also distances the killer more and more from the victim, until eventually in the final stanza there is no killer or victim, just existence in a world that requires the killing of humanity to survive.
Survival in our modern world of increasing crime, social problems, hate crimes, pollution, destruction of environment, religious intolerance, suicide bombings and financial crises seems pretty impossible from Brock’s vantage point. By exposing it for what it is, he makes a painful point. Is the key to being alive and thriving in our modern world becoming desensitized? I find that to be a hard pill to swallow especially given where our world is now compared to 1977 when Brock left this world.
Call to Action:
Given the time gap between now and 1977, write an ending for this poem. You can pick any form whatsoever. If you are a Haiku’er, go ahead and Haiku. If you are a free form poet, have at it. If you are not a poet, have at it too and make it a “flashy” ending for the rest of us.
Here is my attempt:
And Here’s a Sixth
By: Meena Rose
Oh Brock, I call out to you
In this day and age we have
A sixth way to kill a man.
It is called budget cuts
And tightening purses;
We got really good
At killing man’s potential
While still a child
So he may never know better.