The Cockroach by Kevin Halligan

2013 Literature Examination, 2013 Poetry Collection, Latest Posts, Uncategorized

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English Language and Literature

I watched a giant cockroach start to pace,

Skirting a ball of dust that road the floor.

At first he seemed quite satisfied to trace

A path between the wainscot and the door,

But soon he turned to jog in crooked rings,

Circling the rusty table leg and back,

And flipping right over to scratch his wings-

As if the victim of a mild attack

Of restlessness that worsened over time.

After a while, he climbed an open shelf

And stopped. He looked uncertain where to go.

Was this due payment for some vicious crime

A former life had led to? I don’t know

Except I thought I recognised myself.

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13 thoughts on “The Cockroach by Kevin Halligan

  1. “The cockroach” is a poem written by Kevin Halligan. At first read a person may think that the reader is just describing the movements of an insect, but there’s something more.
    The writer recognises himself in the cockroach, and the same does the reader once he realizes that the movements that the insect is making are comparable to the ones that we do in everyday’s life. “I watched I giant cockroach start to pace, skirting a ball of dust that road the floor” these lines are introducing the poem and starting to list the movements of the animal. The poem manages to convey feelings about humankind by making the reader recognise himself in the figure of the insect. “after a while he climbed an open shelf and stopped” a person who is feeling uncertain and that hesitates to take decisions may like this poem because he realizes there’s someone who feels the same sensations; this is called personification.
    The writer is trying to communicate that we are not so different from animals, even the most insignificant ones.
    “A former life had led to? I don’t know
    Except I thought I recognised myself.” here the poet admits he fully recognises himself in the figure of the cockroach.
    In the poem we can find enjambement at almost every line, I think the poet did this to make the actions sound like if part of a list; in my opinion, this is conveying that the humankind sometimes is too shallow and doesn’t give a meaning to everyday’s actions.

    1. That’s great Pietro, thanks. You describe the poem articulately and with good insight.
      Jacopo: can you now extend by describing the meaning of the metaphor in relation to mankind; how can the movements be seen to mirror the actions of human beings?

  2. The author perfectly manages to personify human’s action using the cockroach’s moves. First of all the verb use of “pace” and “jog” represent the personification of the cockroach since these are human activities rather than insect’s ones. Furthermore the insect’s actions perfectly reflect the humans ones: the cockroach firstly seems content with his situation “He seemed quite satisfied to trace a path between the wainscot and the door”. He then changes his activity to “Jog in crooked rings” until he discoveres the presence of a new potential activity: climbing the open shelf. In the end, though, instead of continuing his path it stops, insicure where to go. These actions represent how we, humans, are really fickle in our life. At the beginning we seem happy with our current situation, when we suddenly realize that we are insatisfied and we want more for ourselves. We suddenly remain in a restless situation and become bored of our lives, until we have the opportunity to realize our dreams, but somehow we hesitate and ask ourselves questions instead of catching the opportunity.

    1. Thanks for your comment, especially what you say about personification through verb choice: this is clearly the poet’s intention. I think that the poet successfully represents this common human trait in his seemingly short and simplistic poem!

  3. The poem is an extended metaphor and it is also a sonnet. It talks about a behaviour found in a cockroach that has similarity with human’s behaviour.

      1. It may seem an odd choice of form when you consider the erratic behaviour of the cockroach, but maybe the behaviour is not so arbitrary after all – maybe it is characteristic of humankind; perhaps Halligan is making a comment about the regularity of mankind in displaying such behaviour and emphasising this by using a tight structure.

  4. Can I get the explanation of this lines – At first he ……………………………………………………..worsened over time.

    1. I think it’s about how we begin on life’s path in a fairly accepting way and then sometimes can, as we begin to progress and learn more, become restless and begin to yearn for change; the human tendency is often to attempt to reach happiness by swapping one path for another, striving (sometimes endlessly) for satisfaction/ fulfilment.

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