"Five Ways to Kill a Man" by Edwin Brock is a five-stanza poem written in free verse, consisting of four long stanzas and one short stanza. It is written in the first person. An anonymous narrator addresses an unnamed second person ("you"). The rhetorical situation appears to be one in which the narrator is advising a second person on methods of killing, describing almost scientifically which are the most effective technologies of killing and providing detailed examples and descriptions from four different periods.
The initial line of the first stanza suggests that the speaker is mainly focused on how older methods of killing were inefficient, marred by unnecessary ritual and excessive staffing and equipment; the speaker introduces the poem with the statement:
There are many cumbersome ways to kill a man.
The first stanza of the poem continues to describe the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The speaker recounts many of the details found in the New Testament, but from the viewpoint not of a believer or even a sympathetic skeptic, but merely as one almost reciting a recipe concerning how the crucifixion was conducted.
The second stanza of the poem portrays medieval jousting in which knights charged one another on horseback with lances. The speaker portrays this as also inefficient, requiring aristocratic pomp and ceremony.
The third stanza describes an even more efficient way of killing, namely the chemical warfare used in World War I, in which mustard gas was dropped on troops, leading them to die slowly and painfully in large numbers. The narrator appears to consider this method more efficient but still messy, harming the landscape.
The narrator appears to admire the efficiency of modern atomic warfare in which:
In an age of aeroplanes, you may fly
miles above your victim and dispose of him
by pressing one small switch.
The final stanza suggests that in the post-World War II world of mutually assured destruction, humanity is racing to its own destruction without any need for outside intervention.