The Cockroach – Kevin Halligan


This poem by Kevin Halligan is about the antics of a cockroach that crawls about the flooring in a room. Though on the face of it, the poem describes the aimlessness of the insect, it applies to humans in general and to the narrator in particular. The cockroach, circumspect at first, becomes almost giddy with confidence going round and round the table legs. In a gesture of self-indulgence it stops to scratch himself instead of going about his way. When all seems well, it is suddenly assailed by confusion, stopping in its tracks unable to make up its mind about the direction of its life. Watching the cockroach, the narrator is struck by the similarity between him and the cockroach.

Main Subject

The poem is about a cockroach that the narrator observes as it crawls about aimlessly. The cockroach moves about in fits and starts with no sense of direction. The question that arises in the mind of the reader is, ‘what is the narrator doing, watching the cockroach so closely’? In its aimlessness, the narrator sees a metaphor for his own life.


This allegorical poem about a large cockroach that the narrator observes sets the poet thinking until he draws a parallel between his life and that of the cockroach. Both have no sense of purpose and the narrator is paying the price of committed in the past that makes it impossible for him to have some direction in life.



With detachment the narrator begins observing the movements of a large cockroach. The insect begins moving in one direction but quickly changes it moving from a cautious crawl to a jog. By now it has lost all sense of purpose going round the table and pausing to scratch itself. Half-way into a shelf it stops assailed by doubt and confusion. It now does not know how to proceed. The narrator now wonders whether this confusion is retribution for past crimes committed. Mirrored in the cockroach’s confusion is his own life.

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Craftsmanship / Technique


There is some artlessness about the poem that makes it easy to understand. The narrator is probably in a dull state of mind when he notices a cockroach, a “giant” among the species crawling on the floor. The movements of the insect have him thinking whether the confusion that reigns in his mind is a price that it pays for previous sins. With something of a shock the narrator realises that there is a lot of him in the cockroach.




This is a poem of fourteen lines set in a single stanza. It is a sonnet but without any classical structure.





The language employed is simple with a large number of words that are monosyllabic. The “but” in

“But soon he turned to jog in crooked rings,” indicates the movement stopping short as the cockroach strikes a different path.


The cockroach seems innocent enough when it sets on its journey. But instead of following the straight and narrow path, it is tempted to wander off to go around the rusty table leg. In between it stops to scratch himself luxuriously. The open shelf tempts it but at the threshold it is assailed by confusion much like human beings are. This is what human beings go through at every turn in their lives. The cockroach is a metaphor for the narrator and the human race.

Movement / Rhythm

Movement in the poem comes from words like pace, trace, jog and flip. The rhyme scheme is ababcdcdefghgf.


An example of alliteration seen in the poem is “ At first he seemed quite satisfied to trace”.

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Figures of Speech

The cockroach is a metaphor for the narrator or even mankind. It has no sense of purpose and it is led astray at every turn in its life. It finds it difficult to resist temptation, and chases mirages. The narrator says that he sees himself mirrored in the cockroach.