Analysis: The Cockroach by Kevin Halligan

Kevin Halligan was born in Toronto, Canada, in 1964. His collection Blossom Street and Other Poems is based on his travels.

On the surface the poem is about the speaker watching and describing a ‘giant’ cockroach and, in particular, its movements. In the final lines, however, the speaker identifies himself with the cockroach: ‘Except I thought I recognised myself’.
This connection made by the speaker suggests the metaphorical significance of the cockroach in the poem. The movements suggest different stages in his life. Indeed a number of time references add to the impression that this is a reflection by the speaker on stages in his own life: ‘At first’ (line 3), ‘But soon’ (line 5), ‘After a while’ (line 10).

There is a sense of direction and purpose, perhaps, in the early stage:
‘At first he seemed quite satisfied to trace
A path between the waistcot and the door’.
But later ‘He looked uncertain where to go.’
The octave is tightly structured with a regular rhyme scheme (ABABCDCD). The ‘But’ at the start of the second quatrain signals an important turning-point, as the cockroach’s movements become less certain (‘jog in crooked rings’).
There is use of enjambment at the end of the octave and beginning of the sestet, which it may be fruitful to explore: ‘a mild attack / Of restlessness’. Interesting, too, is the irregular rhyme scheme of the sestet (EFGEGF). How do the rhymes contribute to specific effects in the poem?

Discuss the meaning of the last three lines.
What do they make of the allusion to reincarnation: ‘due payment for some vicious crime’?
What do you understand by the poem’s final sentence: ‘I don’t know / Except I thought I
recognised myself’?

Begin with ‘start to pace’ and end with ‘stopped. He looked uncertain where to go.

How might the various movements described convey stages in the speaker’s life? What happens to the
movements as time passes? Do these descriptions have a more universal

What change in the movement of the cockroach takes place in lines 5-8?

…soon he turned to jog in crooked rings’
‘flipping right over to scratch his wings’
‘As if the victim of a mild attack / Of restlessness that worsened over time.’
What does the word ‘restlessness’ reveal about the way the speaker views his own life?

Thematic links with set poems
Personal reflection: A Different History, Continuum, Summer Farm, Where I Come
Sonnet: Composed Upon Westminster Bridge

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