Can you compare the language of the poems "The Cockroach" by Kevin Halligan and "The Woodspurge" by Dante Gabriel Rosetti?

Expert Answers
carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Two poems “The Cockroach” by Kevin Halligan and “The Woodspurge” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti present different aspects of nature.  The narration in both poems is first person with the main character telling the story of his view of the natural world.


The author uses simplistic language to paint this vivid picture of the cockroach. The imagery brings the reader into the scene with the purposeful language that portrays the bug.  His rhymes follow the pattern of every other line rhyming until the brief seizure by the bug.  Then he returns to his rhyming until the last line which refers to the narrator’s seeing himself in the cockroach.


“The Cockroach” finds the narrator watching a cockroach crossing the floor in his house.  The roach seems perfectly fine avoiding a dust bunny as he walks apparently with no particular purpose. Suddenly, he has some kind of attack:

Circling the rusty table leg and back,

And flipping right over to scratch his wings-

As if the victim of a mild attack…

After the sudden seizure, the insect displays frenzied moves as he searches for sanctuary.  Finally, he finds a place for respite on a shelf. He stops and looks around as though he does not know quite what to do.  Possibly the roach is paying for something he has done in a past life or for a crime that he has committed.  

The important line comes at the end of the poem: the speaker sees himself in the cockroach.

Sitting watching the cockroach, the narrator is absorbed and becomes fascinated by watching what happens as the bug progresses across his floor.  At the end of the poem, the reader realizes that the cockroach is a metaphor for the narrator since he sees himself in the movements of the bug. The slow beginning of the roach indicates the speaker’s life was rather slow moving in the beginning.  Then something causes him to be frenetic in his life and possibly his thinking.  As the roach does, he searches and finds a place of refuge to reevaluate his life. 


Rossetti’s language is also simplistic, yet forceful in describing the setting and the feelings of the narrator. His rhyme scheme follows an appropriate pattern with each quatrain rhyming the last words. His images are more poetic and illustrate the movement of the wind and the scenery in the view of the poet.


Unlike the roach poem, “The Woodspurge” takes place outside in the midst of a windy day. The imagery portrays a beautiful setting.  The narrator has gone for a walk and has trouble staying upright because the wind moves him.  The speaker finally sits down and the wind stops.

The narrator puts his head between his knees.  He doesn't say anything, but if he did, it would be “alas.” This lets the reader know that this man is suffering in some way.

He lays over in the grass and can feel the grass and hear the noise and life around him.

His eyes are open wide, which may be both literal and figurative.  He can see his surroundings, yet something has happened to make him aware of an unhappy truth.  He counts a growth of weeds; there are ten.  Then he spies a beautiful yellow flower, the woodspurge, which has three leaves shaped like a cup.

The narrator is feeling some kind of grief which he refers to as perfect. This is important to the speaker because he does not have to remember the grief or even draw any wisdom from it.  The only thing that he will remember is the flower with its yellow cup.

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question