Poetry as Social Commentary


I created this lesson to use in my summer school English course, but these poems could certainly be used in a history or humanities course as well. The point was to look at poetry written in a certain time and use it as a lens to see how the author– and presumably others at that moment in history– perceived the world around them. I chose four poems by Spike Milligan, an Irish WWII vet and pal of the Monty Python troupe, to look at his criticism of war (WWII and Vietnam) and modern society. He is Irish and worked in Britain for much of his adult life, but his criticisms certainly apply to American culture as well.

The Soldiers at Lauro

by Spike Milligan

(Italy 1943)

Young are the dead
Like babies they lie
The wombs they once blest
Not healed dry
And yet—too soon
Into each space
A cold earth falls
On colder face.
Quite still they lie
These fresh reeds
Clutched in earth like winter seeds
But these will not bloom
When called by spring
To burst with leaf
And blossoming
They will sleep on
In silence dust
As crosses rot
And memories rust.

The Dog Lovers

by Spike Milligan (1970)

So they bought you
And they kept you in a
Very good home
Central heating
A deep freeze
A very good home—
No one to take you
For that lovely long run—
But otherwise
‘A very good home.’
They fed you Pal and Chum
But not that lovely long run,
Until, mad with energy and boredom
You escaped—and ran and ran and ran
Under a car.
Today they will cry for you—
Tomorrow they will buy another dog.

Goliath (1971)

by Spike Milligan

They chop down 100 ft trees<
To make chairs
I bought one
I am six foot one inch.
When I sit in the chair
I’m four foot two.
Did they really chop down a 100 ft tree
To make me look shorter?

Values ‘68

by Spike Milligan

The Prince is dying
‘Give him air.’
Headlines! Crisis!
Kennedy Shot!
The assassin captured
Too late! Kennedy dies!
The telegrams flow
And bury the body in—Arlington.
Somewhere in Meekong
A prince of battle is blown into bloody meat.
No headlines
No crisis
And only
One telegram.
(Written on the day of Robert Kennedy’s assassination)

We used a fairly generic poetry analysis sheet to work with these poems and then discussed them. You may want to skip the more technical aspects of the analysis and focus on the message, tone, and your own opinions.

Here is the analysis sheet we used:

Ms. Nielsen
HS English 7:45 – 9:15
Summer School 2009

Poetry Analysis Worksheet

Read the poem and answer these questions to guide your analysis.

1) Name of Poem & Poet:

2) Is there a regular meter? If so, what kind of verse does it use?

3) Is there a rhyme scheme? If so, what is it?

4) What type of poem is it? (Sonnet, haiku, ballad, etc)

5) What is the subject of the poem?

6) Does this poem have a message? What is it?

7) What is the mood/tone of the poem?

8 ) Does the poem use literary devices such as allusion, alliteration, or metaphor? If so, please give examples.

9) Do you like this poem? Why/why not?


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2 Responses to “Poetry as Social Commentary”

  1. Esmenio Galera Says:

    I copied the poems for further readings. I was impressed by the first poem.

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