When procrastination pays off: Finding ‘Five Ways to Kill A Man’ by Edwin Brock

A quiet Sunday afternoon. Lots of work to do; the house is a mess. I have just looked down at my hands and see the results of a morning in the garden – broken and dirty fingernails and a splinter in my ring finger that requires a pin and some antiseptic. So many things should take priority over sitting browsing the Poetry Archive website, but which of them can’t wait? (Don’t answer that one – I appreciate my finger may turn septic rendering work and cleaning impossible but I will take a chance.)

So I have been looking up some poets I have never read before and came across Edwin Brock. Born in South London in 1927 he was a serving police officer, advertising copywriter and professional poet. The following poem is one I had to share. ‘Five Ways to Kill A Man’ is one of the most important anti-war poems of the 20th century and I was struck by how effective it is in highlighting the true horror of what man does to man. Simple and direct, it doesn’t need any complicated images to drive the point home.

Brock died in 1997 having left this poem and another ‘The Song of the Battery Hen’ to be regularly anthologised. I have never come across either, but that was my loss. It seems he has a body of work that many contemporary poets feel has been neglected.

Apparently, Brock wrote Five Ways to Kill A Man in response to his first hearing of the wonderful  War Requiem by Benjamin Britten. It took him thirty minutes and he never changed a line……

Five Ways to Kill a Man, by Edwin Brock

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 lives somewhere in the middle

of the twentieth century, and leave him there.

I find this chilling. As The Poetry Archive suggests, it seems to be written as a manual of killing. Over the years man has become more adept and ever more efficient at exterminating fellow human beings and Brock’s words highlight this ‘progress’ brilliantly.

There are many ways to physically kill a man. But at the risk of striking a sombre note, isn’t it also possible to remain ‘alive’ in terms of taking a breath, walking, talking and feeling a beating heart whilst being utterly numb where it really matters?

The last lines of this poem seem even more relevent in the 21st century, as the struggle to find meaning and purpose in a world driven at speed and threatened by technology seems to overwhelm so many…..

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6 Responses to When procrastination pays off: Finding ‘Five Ways to Kill A Man’ by Edwin Brock

  1. sonofwalt says:

    Stunning poem, Suzie. I have a retired police officer and poet from near Belfast who will want to read this. He’s in NYC right now, so I’ll wait till he’s back, but it sounds like something he could have written. You could so easily, as you imply, change the final lines to include the beginning of the 21st century. Sigh. Now I too have housework and chores. Thank god I’m still five hours behind you! 🙂

    • keatsbabe says:

      It’s funny isn’t it? Policing and poetry seems an odd mix. I’d be interested to know what style of poetry your friend writes. Hope you made the most of that five hours!

      • sonofwalt says:

        His style is very free-form, but sometimes rhymes. There are a lot of things he has been working on lately that I have not seen. I think he’s been having fun finding his voice. Here is a link to his page: http://vincecreelan.com.

        As for those five hours and how I spent them… erm…

  2. Gosh, I’m not rally a poetry person for the most part but that was incredibly insightful, oddly beautiful and very sad. Thanks for sharing Suzie x

  3. Rivenrod says:

    It is actually quite brilliant, understated, Orwellian in feel. Somehow, for me, it conjures stiff tweed suits that smell ever so slightly of moorland rain and equally stiff morals and principles.

    It’s Friday. Is it Wine Time yet?


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