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Poisoned Talk poem
MEANING OF LINES
• Line 1 : The narrator demands to know who
killed cock robin. A cock robin is a male bird.
The robin is common in England.
• Line 2-3 : The worm replies and confesses that
he is the one responsible for the death of cock
• Line 4-5 : The worm describes where the bird
died on the branch of a tree. The cause of his
death is poisoning. The bird ate the worm which
is poisonous. The worm is poisonous because he
was poisoned by the ‘acid soil’. Acid soil is toxic
and it is harmful to plants and trees. That is why
the tree where cock robin died is ‘a withered
tree’, meaning the tree is dry and weak.
• Line 6 : The narrator asks who killed the
heron (a large bird that feeds on fish)
• Line 7 : The fish confesses to killing the
• Line 8 : The fish killed the heron when the
bird fed on his poisoned flesh. The word
‘tainted’ means contaminated of polluted.
• Line 9-10 : The fish says that he killed all
the birds of the lake including the tern,
duck and drake.
• Line 11 : The narrator wants to know who killed the
• Line 12 : ‘Industry’ boasts that he killed the lake. The
word ‘boasted’ tell us that ‘Industry’ is not sorry for
killing the lake, but is proud of it.
• Line 13-14 : ‘Industry’ explains how he killed the lake.
He poisoned the fish, weeds and the plants in the lake
with mercury. Mercury is a very poisonous substance.
It is released into the environment through industrial
processes and careless disposal of industrial waste.
• Line 15 : ‘Industry’ says that he poisoned the lake to
pleased ‘greedy men’. The word ‘men’ refers to
mankind, people, you and I (people who do not want
to spend money to dispose of hazardous industrial
waste properly because they want more profits). The
real reason for the death of the lake is men’s greed.
• Line 16 : Next, the narrator asks who killed the
• Line 17 : The wind confesses to the crime. The
word ‘moaned’ tells us that the wind is sad.
• Line 18-20 : The word ‘prowl’ tells us that the
wind moves around like an animal looking for
prey. The word ‘unconfined’ means freely. The
winds explain that he killed the flowers by
carrying acid rain over the land, be it cultivated
field, flooded carrying acid rain over the land, be
it cultivated field, flooded land or wetlands
(fen). Like acid soil, acid rain destroys plants.
• Line 21 : The narrator wants to know who killed the forest.
• Line 22-24 : Sulphur dioxide answers that he made sure the
forest died along with all the wildlife and creatures that dwell in
it. Sulphur dioxide is a smelly gas or liquid produced through
industrial processes and the burning of coal and petroleum. It
dissolves in water to form acid. Air polluted by sulphur dioxide
turns rain into acid rain, which is harmful to plants and wildlife.
• Line 25 : Sulphur dioxide says that he killed all life from the
earthworm to linnet (a small European bird). This covers all living
creatures. It tells us how powerful and lethal sulphur dioxide is
- Countryside where all kinds of animals
and plants live.
- England and Europe where birds like
robins, terns, herons, ducks and linnets
are commonly found.
- Not far from the industrial area which
polluted the place
- 20th century – scientists only began
studying the effects of acid rain in the
The main voice in this poem is the omniscient
narrator who asks who is to blame for a death.
The answers of the creatures and elements
which confess to the crime are put in italicised
Who is responsible for the
destruction of the environment
Do you know ?
The poem tells us that wildlife, the lake,
the flowers and the forest have been
killed. The culprit who confess to the
• the worm who killed cock robin
• the fish who killed the heron
• Industry who killed the lake
• the wind who killed the flowers
• Sulphur dioxide who killed the forest
However, are these the real killlers?
CASE Cock robin died after eating the worm
which has been poisoned by the acid soil.
So, the worm is actually a victim. The worm
is part of the natural food chain and he was
caught and eaten by the bird. The bird died
because the worm was poisonous due to the
acid soil. The real culprit then is the one
who polluted the soil and made it acidic.
CASE The heron died because it fed on the
‘tainted’ flesh of the fish. Like the worm,
the fish is part of the food chain. The fish is
also a victim, poisoned by water pollution.
All the birds of the lake died after eating the
poisoned fish. The real killer is the person
who polluted the lake.
CASE Industry killed the lake by poisoning al life
in it with mercury. He says it is to satisfy
men’s greed. So, it is men’s greed that
caused industry to pollute the lake and
destroy the life in it.
CASE The wind confessed that he killed the
flowers. He did it by carrying acid rain
everywhere he blew. Acid rain is the weapon
used to kill the flowers. But how did the rain
become acidic? It is through air pollution.
So the real culprit is the one who caused air
CASE The forest’s killer is sulphur dioxide.
Sulphur dioxide is produced by the burning
of coal and petroleum for industry.
Who is the real culpit? Man.
In all the cases, a chain effect led to the death
of creatures or plants. On the surface, the ones
who confess to the killings appear to be guilty.
However, if we follow the chain of cause and
effect, we realise that the real killer in all the
crimes is us humans.
Man’s greed causes them to use cheaper
sources, such as coal-burning, instead of cleaner
but more expensive forms of energy. They also
refuse to dispose of industrial waster properly
because it costs more. Their irresponsible
attitude leads to the pollution of the
environment and the destruction of nature and
MESSAGE 1 : Take responsibility for our crimes
In the poem, the creatures and elements who
confess to the killing of wildlife and the
environment are non-human. The poet gives each
of them a human voice. In this way, he makes us
think about who is really to blame for the crimes.
As we look for the answer, we realise that the real
killers are not those confessing. The deaths are
caused by pollution, which is caused by human
MESSAGE 2 : Protect the environment, stop
The poet tells us that many animals have died –
‘all the birds of the lake’ (line 10), all kinds of life –
‘fish, plant and weed’ (line 14), all flowers ‘over
field, flood and fen’ (line 20) and all life from
‘earthworm to linnet’ (line 25).
By pointing out the seriousness of the
effects of pollution, the author wants to tell us to
do something to protect the environment. To
prevent the destruction of the environment, we
must act to stop pollution.
• Love for nature
By warning us about the
effects of pollution on the
environment, the author is
reminding us to love nature.
It is us humans who poison
the environment with out
careless attitude and greed.
We must take the
responsibility for the crimes
It is the greed of mankind
(line 15) that is the main
cause of the pollution that is
destroying the environment.
The poem reminds us that
we need to be moderate in
the way we live, not be
extreme and greedy, to want
more than we need.
The character that confess to the killings in each verse
are not the real killers. The poet uses irony to draw
attention to the truth, that humans are the real killers.
For example, in the first stanza, the worm confesses that
he killed cock robin. Ironically, the worm himself is twice
a victim, first, he was poisoned by the acid soil. Then, he
was eaten by the bird.
TONE : Ironic and sombre
• The poem focusses on unnatural death and killing. In
the last stanza, the last killer says that he ‘ensured’
that the forest and all the creatures in it died.
• The use of words like ‘killed’, ‘great harm’, ‘died’,
‘withered’, ‘poisoned’, ‘tainted’ and ‘moaned’ creates
the grim atmosphere.
MOOD : grim and chilling
LANGUAGE AND STYLE
• The poem has 5 verse consisting of five
• The rhyme pattern: abbcc
• Each verse begins with a question about a
crime against nature, followed by a
confession in italicised text to differentiate
it from the question.
- The use of irony is seen in the
confessions to the crimes. Each of the
culprits confessing to a killing is not the
real killer. They are either victims
themselves, such as the worm and the
fish in the lake or they are accessories to
the crime, such as Industry, the wind and
- Even though there seems to be so
many killers, when we trace the cause
and effect chain, we discover that there
is only one killer – man.
The creatures and
mentioned in the
poem are given
They can ‘talk’.
The ones confessing to
the killings speak about
their crimes in a human-
like voice and they use
the first person
pronouns ‘I’ and ‘my’.
Industry begins with a
capital letter like a name
and ‘boasted’ like a man
Sulphur dioxide ‘ensured’ the
forest died (line 22)
• The question ‘who killed’ and the
reply ‘I’ are repeated at the
beginning of each stanza.
• Repetition gives the poem a definite
• It emphasises the idea that the
environment and wildlife are being
destroyed and that we need to do
something to stop it.
• The crimes spoken about in the poem symbolise the
destruction of the environment.
• The poison mentioned in the poem symbolise pollution.
• The killing of cock robin symbolises the destruction to wildlife
via the natural food chain as a result of land pollution.
• The killing of the heron and the birds of the lake symbolises the
lethal effect of water pollution.
• The killing of the lake symbolises the danger of industrial
• The killing of the flowers by the wind refers to air pollution.
• The killing of the forest symbolises the threat to the whole