The Cockroach by Kevin Halligan

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.


40 thoughts on “The Cockroach by Kevin Halligan

  1. What a great site. My blog is growing at, feel free to have a look. Whr=ere are you based? I was particularly interested in the IGCSE material for 2013 since I am starting to deliver that course next year.

    Jonathan Peel

    1. it’s a very easy poem as in the first stanza it tells about Indian culture and in the second stanza is totally different from the first as it shows how children love english even though India was ruled and people were tortured by british

      1. Valshakh, I think that you are going to run into some problems with your context. The poet never considered India when writing the poem, though I can see how you might have made this connection. It is simply not right, though, I would encourage you look over the poem again, analysing the language specifically, and the mood created by the poet.

      2. vaishakh is actually right.She mentions it in the first stanza saying that great pan emigrated to india and later on in the second stanza talk about how athe british have affected the indian culture

      3. Well, I think she did consider India when she wrote this poem because she talks about how the gods of India roam freely and how they respect books because of Goddess Saraswati. And she also talks about how the British invaded India and while they killed loads of Indians, the Indians still love to grow English.

      4. I am really sorry Julia i meant this comment for the poem Different history by Sujata Bhatt but there has been some mistake by me that it got posted here and Vaishakh and not Valshakh

  2. The Cockroach: Kevin Halligan

    At first glance, the poem ‘The Cockroach’ by Kevin Halligan is about, as the name suggests, a cockroach. However, with a deeper reading, it later appears that the detailed description of the cockroach is an extended metaphor of either, the persona (presumably the poet himself) or of humans in general. This is first hinted by the fact that the cockroach is ‘giant’ – is it large for its species, or large to the point it is the size of a human? This is later reinforced by the activities of the cockroach described in later lines – ‘jog’, ‘trace’, ‘circle’, etc – remarkably human like actions for an insect. These closely described frantic actions of the cockroach (lines 3-11) seem to represent human nature in a way; first the cockroach is satisfied with his current situation, but then quickly gets bored of it and begins to want something more, something new, and so does so – beginning to shift from his activity of tracing the ‘path between the wainscot and the door’ to ‘jog in crooked rings….” He is then struck by a case of restlessness, but then finally finds something exciting, new – the open shelf. However instead of going straight in, he hesitates, ‘he looked uncertain where to go’. His actions seem to represent human nature, how we, sometimes very suddenly, realize that instead of being content and satisfied with what we have, we want more – more experience, more money, more social life – the depths of human wants are endless. We soon get restless and bored and disappointed at our current lives as it is not where we want to be. However, when we actually find an opportunity to take the chances to get what we want – there is sometimes a moment of hesitation and uncertainty: is this what we really want? Is the risk worth it to take the chance? Do we really want to leave our comfortable current life? And then, along with the definite realization that the cockroach personifies the persona or humans in general with the last line (‘Except I thought I recognized myself’), the true idea of the poem is revealed – that humans scurry through life frantically, almost rushing through it, but without any true goal or purpose. We are constantly looking for choices we can take, but when actually presented with them, realize that we don’t even know what we truly want.

    1. this is right!!, i just finished analysing this poem at my highschool class about literature obveusly, and my teacher said exactly the same… its amazing how u realize all of these.. haha, great work!!

      1. The tone is quite regretful or reflective in this poem as the poet keeps uses words such as “victim”, “vicious” and “worsened”. He is almost punishing himself for living a life like that. But then we also argue that he accepts the reality, as he says “a former life had led to”.

  3. really a good analysis……helped me alot….:)thnkx..i m doing o levels and i m sure i’ll be visiting this writer again and again for other poems as well

    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.
      Pietro Ghelfi

  4. shubhi
    The City Planners (Margaret Atwood)
    The city planner is written by Margaret Atwood he is a Canadian author. Atwood’s poem is rich with irony. As in the 1st stanza “Dry August sunlight” refers to the province in which the poet comes From (Canada), more specifically the precise climate in Canada, in the month of August (summer). The Adjective “dry” helps emphasis this The City planners’ Atwood describes the place as “dry August sunlight”, this portrays an imagery of no lighting, dark and negative and also suggests to the readers that she do not like where she was. Atwood uses sibilance in “cutting a straight swath in the discouraged grass.” This emphasizes that even nature is not freely grown, and it must get permission from the planners. Atwood uses sibilance in “cutting a straight swath in the discouraged grass.” This emphasizes that even nature is not freely grown, and it must get permission from the planners.
    Stanza two continues the predicament that challenges suburbia in a way by pointing out flaws. There is a distinct similarity between stanza one and two in that there is list of complaints relating to suburbia.
    . Some images that stand out for Attwood in suburbia are the offensive smell of oil which smells faintly like vomit and a splash of paint is compared to a bruise. She says that the paint is as ‘surprising as a bruise’ because it protests against the sameness of everything in suburbia. The same tone is repeated when she describes ‘a plastic hose poised in a vicious coil’. This gives us the impression that the hose isn’t supposed to be there, because not all the other houses in the suburbia have it, therefore it’s a different characteristic.
    She later says that even the ‘clay seas’ will become contested territories and the City Planners of the future will still map out yet another city.

  5. In this poem by Kevin Halligan, the poet uses an extended metaphor to contemplate his life using the imagery of a cockroach. The poets’ choice to use a cockroach, an insect widely renowned for its foul and disgusting traits, implies that Halligan is not proud or satisfied with his life. This is supported by the frequent use of negatives-‘victim’, ‘worsened’, ‘vicious’, uncertain’. The poet explores his past experiences and decisions, but above all his identity-who he is and why.

    According to the Webster’s College dictionary, ‘identity’ is ‘the state of having unique identifying characteristics held by no other person or thing’. In ‘The Cockroach’ by Kevin Halligan, the poet not only explores the idea of identity, but the concept of identity being shaped from past events, experiences. He starts by recalling his steady and simplistic early life-‘he seemed quite satisfied to trace/a path between the wainscot and the door’.

    He then goes on to depict a different scene, one of frenzy and confusion. He warns the reader about the change using the diction ‘but’-‘but soon he turned to jog in…flipping right over to scratch his wings’. Already, though not completely evident, the author drops hints to the use of an extended metaphor by employing personal pronouns and personification to describe the cockroach. The poet uses various time references to indicates the different stages in his life-‘at first’, ‘but soon’, ‘after a while’.

  6. The poem ‘ The Cockroach’ by Kevin halligan uses poetic devices like imagery, personification, rhyme scheme and simile. At the first line the cockroach is exaggerated and said to be ‘giant’. The cockroach is first satisfied and okay with what he is doing and where he is going and then finds ‘a path between the wainscot and the door’. Then his actions are personified by the words ‘jog’, ‘scratch’. Then he lost his track and ‘looked uncertain where to go’. The lines 12-13 tells us that the cockroach might have done something bad at his past and may be regretting it right now. He is
    also said to be ‘a victim of a mild attack’ which tells us that he may be the prey of something. The persona who was watching may have found a way and must have related the actions of the cockroach to his life and at last had ‘recognized himself’.

  7. The Cockroach by Kevin Halligan is a sonnet. The things that make a sonnet instantly recognisable are- A sonnet has 14 lines and has iambic pentameter also.

  8. According to me the poet hasn’t implied personification in this poem. Personification is when you describe a non-living thing by using verbs and adjectives that are used to describe living things. For example: The run down house appeared depressed.

  9. Hi everyone, um I’m doing my GCSE’s this year and I am really struggling on the essay our teacher has given us and was wondering if anyone would be able to give me a hand. The question is: ‘Explore the ways that the poets represent encounters with nature in The Cockroach by Kevin Halligan and Summer Farm by Norman MacCaig’. Please help asap!:) thanks.

    1. omg… I really don’t like questions as such, comparing two poems or something. I’m doing my IGCSE and I’m struggling on the same thing too.. :/

  10. When I first read this poem, I thought that the cockroach represented the poet, and the cockroaches journey around the room represented the path of life. The cockroach starts off satisfied to trace a path, but soon loses it`s way and does not know which direction of the infinite number of directions to take. It feels a sense of purposelessness. But, I guess this poem can be interpreted in a number of ways…

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