The Cockroach - Ms Kempthorne

The Cockroach
Kevin Halligan
The Poet
• Kevin Halligan was born in Toronto, Canada in
1964. He regards himself as an Anglophile and
has spent long periods living in England, but he
also travelled in Asia, where this poem is written.
• Halligan hones his poems obsessively. He is able to
use a variety of forms with great control, and
deceptive ease.
• He lived in Phnom Penh and worked for the
Cambodia Daily newspaper, where he became
acquainted with Buddhist theology.
KEVIN HALLIGAN grew up in Toronto and has
lived in the UK and southeast Asia, wher. His
poems have appeared in Vallum magazine,
California Quarterly, Oxford Poetry, Acta
Victoriana and the Times Literary Supplement.
Kevin Halligan
I watched a giant cockroach start to pace,
Skirting a ball of dust that rode 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 cooked rings,
Circling the rusty table leg and back.
And flipping right over to scratch his wingsAs 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 to payment for some vicious crime
A former life had led to? I don’t know,
Except I thought I recognized myself.
Subject Matter
The poet is the persona in this poem
The persona watches the cockroach
The cockroach goes through obstacles on his journey
He feels pity for the cockroach which is not usual.
The cockroach gets confused and puzzled
Wondering what his life had led to; the end of his life?
The persona can relate to the cockroach; can see himself in
this creature.
• The persona answers the cockroach’s query with – ‘I don’t
know’ – this concludes that they are both confused
• Both the Cockroach and persona have done something in
their life that they feel they are being punished for.
Value of life/ struggle through life/Karma
• Small insignificant creature, yet his life is precious to
• Irony that a human would want him dead, yet he is
trying to save himself
• The persona can relate to the cockroach’s struggle in life,
and therefore, is able to relate to it.
• The cockroach is alone, ironic, as there are many
cockroaches in this world known as pests
• The cockroach has no one to turn to in the time of need, he
has come into this world alone, and shall die alone
• To get somewhere, or to reach a goal, you need to work
through it alone
Choices in life one has to make
The cockroach doesn’t know where to go, “he looked uncertain where to
go”, but that choice could end in him dying, or finding freedom
The persona tells us that it’s the choices we make in life which end with
consequences we all must deal with
Main Idea / Theme
The cockroach is struggling to find his way around, until he becomes “a
victim of a mild attack” and starts to struggle with “ restlessness that
worsened over time”
From this we can deduce that the persona is conveying the main idea,
which is: In order to get somewhere in life, one has to face many
challenges and cope with uncertainty. We too are ‘dirty’ creatures that
have committed many crimes/ sins, and what we receive in the future is
a result of those sins we have committed in the past. By being ‘victims
of a mild attack’, are we getting what we deserve?
• It contains 14 lines, which is a sonnet - a sonnet is used to
present a love for something.
• From lines 1-8 the poem has a rhyme scheme of 'a b a b' "pace", "trace" - "floor", "door"
• But then from lines 9-14 the rhyme scheme of the poem
starts to change into a weird rhyming scheme as "time"
rhymes with "crime" which is in line 12 but "shelf" in line 10
rhymes with "myself" on the last line.
• The poem has only 1 stanza which conveys that life is short.
• There is no rhythm in this poem
• There is 1 sestet and 1 octet in this poem
• A detailed fascination he has for a cockroach. He starts the
poem with admiration for the cockroach and later ends up
with sorrow and confusion as the cockroach is soon
portrayed as a parallel reflection of the poet.
• Halligan also makes the reader have pity for the cockroach
with the use of the cockroach's movement
" skirting a ball of dust that rode the floor"
" he turned to jog in crooked rings"
" flipping right over to scratch his wings"
“ as if the victim of a mild attack"
Language devices
• There are quite a few examples of personification used in this poem.
Halligan refers to the cockroach throughout the poem as ‘he’, for example,
‘he climbed an open shelf’. The poet also gives the cockroach human
actions. This language device gives a clear description of the
cockroach’s action, connecting it with the persona.
Line 7-9:
And flipping right over to scratch his wingsAs if the victim of a mild attack
Of restlessness that worsened over time.
Shows the many various quick actions of the cockroach in this movement
Rhetorical question
‘was this due payment for some vicious crime a former life had led to?’
Shows that Halligan has pity for the cockroach and himself.
Clear images can be seen in the poem due to the adjectives used
Eg. ‘Giant cockroach’ , ‘Rusty table leg’
This gives the reader a clear idea of what the surrounding is like at that
time of observation. The word ‘rusty’ may suggest to the reader that
even he himself is like the cockroach, travelling towards his goal with
‘dirty’ things along the way. Also emphasises the brevity of life – the
man-made object is old and rusty, but we pass by on our way to death
Points to consider
Consider the tone of voice of the narrator and
what effect this produces on the reader.
Suggested comparison with this poem:
‘Hunting snake’ by Judith Wright
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