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.
The poet Wilfred Owen sarcastically talks of the various ways to kill a human being. He starts off by talking about the crucifixion of Christ who was betrayed by Judas, tortured and made to carry his own cross. Brutal crucifixion is one of the ways to end the life of a human being that the poet talks about.
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.
The poet talks of the War of Roses in the second stanza which was fought from 1455 to 1487 between the two houses of Lancaster and York for the throne of England. Here knights attacked the other in the traditional way with white horses with English trees, men with bows and arrows and a banquet where the winning side would hold the festivities. This manner of killing is swifter than the crucifixion of Jesus yet the sarcastic manner of Brock rings with irony throughout the lines of his poem.
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.
Brock in the third stanza tells us that we don’t need nobilities to kill other human beings for if the wind is favourable we can blow gas at the enemy. This refers to the world war 1 which was a gas and trench warfare with mud laced boots, bomb craters, a plague of rats and war songs pushing the men ahead with zeal and vigour.
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.
Now the poet talks of the World War 2 where aeroplanes were used to dump and destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atom bombs. One needed to just press a small switch to completely decimate and destroy the two cities of Japan. One just needed an ocean to separate the two countries with two different systems of government, nation’s scientists, several factories for the production of the mass weapons and a psychopath possibly referring to Henry S Truman who ordered the bombing on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One also needs land that no one would use for several years as the atom bomb radiation would render the land useless.
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.
The final stanza states that the above-mentioned ways to kill humans were cumbersome and a more simple, direct and neat way to kill humans was to leave the man somewhere in the middle of the twentieth century and leave him there and he would perish due to the harsh circumstances of the century and would be a victim of time.
This poem has a hidden moral message which states that humans should aim at coexisting peacefully and without mindless violence.