‘Have a Nice Day’ by Spike Milligan is a poem that uses an odd process of wording to depict a bizarre situation that proved fatal for both involved individuals. Since neither individual necessarily had to “die,” however, the poem proves a statement of how the general quality of self-interest among humans is not only sometimes absurd, but dangerous. This is the theme of the work, and Milligan uses the casualness of conversation and the unusual happenings in this fatal scenario to showcase that concept—all the way down to the narrator showing that same lack of care. You can read the full poem here.
Have a Nice Day Analysis
‘Help, help, ‘ said a man. ‘I’m drowning.’
‘Hang on, ‘ said a man from the shore.
‘Help, help, ‘ said the man. ‘I’m not clowning.’
‘Very well, ‘ said the man who was drowning. ‘I’ll try and stay afloat.
By reciting the poems of Browning
And other things he wrote.’
Very little information is provided about either party in the noted discussion of these lines of ‘Have a Nice Day’, or the setting for that matter. What the reader can infer is that someone was in the water and someone else on “shore,” and both were in need of “help.” The “man” in the water “was drowning,” and the one on “shore” had “a disease.” Both of these predicaments could be fatal if not tended to, yet neither “man” was doing much beyond hoping someone else would save him to continue living. For the “drowning” person, this manifested in crying for “help,” while “the shore” person “wait[ed] for a Doctor J. Browning” to come and remedy his “disease.”
This is a paradox, to be sure. Neither “man” was fully engaged in an overly active method of saving himself, and neither was making a move to “help” the other. Rationally, had the “man” on “the shore” saved the “drowning” person, that “drowning” person could have gone to retrieve medical attention for the “man” suffering from “the disease.” Instead, though, both parties were focused on their own predicaments that were basically placed in someone else’s hands. Essentially, neither was “help[ing]” the other, proving neither was dependable, but both were dependent on someone else for rescue.
At this juncture in ‘Have a Nice Day’, the reader might point out that the “drowning” person was hardly in a position to “help” the “man” on “shore” without first being retrieved from the water. This notion proves valid, and it is a statement of the amount of responsibility that is placed on a particular person’s shoulders. Those who can “help” another, but do not, seem more guilty than those who do not “help,” but were hardly in a position to in the first place. In this, Milligan has spoken to the nature of responsibility and human awareness, with variations based on possibility.
The notion that neither of these men seemed overly concerned with the other is mirrored in the sparse offering of setting and character details in the lines of ‘Have a Nice Day’. Neither character bothered to know anything beyond the other’s precarious nature by this time, and those details were only relayed out of necessity. The “drowning” person called for “help,” thus alerting the other to his predicament, and the “man” on “shore” only shared his information as a reason to not assist. This shows self-interest, which was again worse on the one who claimed to have “the disease.” The “drowning” person could do nothing beyond “try and stay afloat” without a rescue—assuming he had no means to leave the water—but “the shore” “man” could have “help[ed]” save the other’s life.
The communication between the two addresses how ridiculous Milligan finds this stand-off of sorts in that the “drowning” person referred to his situation as “not clowning,” which is comical wording, given his predicament. In response, as well, the one suffering “the disease” told the “drowning” one to “[b]e patient dear man who is drowning,” which minimizes the danger he truly was in.
That danger was so evident, furthermore, that the “drowning” person would need more “help” than the laughably obvious advice to “try staying alive,” and he would likely not feel calm enough while waiting for rescue to refer to the physician as “Doc” or to “recit[e] the poems” to pass the time. The one enduring “the disease,” as well, did not seem as stressed as he should have been if here were fatally “ill” by speaking of “patien[ce]” so much.
In this, Milligan has hinted that their circumstances were not as dire as they were proclaiming, and has also mocked the self-willed lack of compassion that “man” has toward his fellow “man.” This concept is further validated with the already noted understanding that, had “the disease[d]” “man” assisted the “drowning” one, both may have been rescued.
‘Help, help, ‘ said the man with the disease, ‘I suddenly feel quite ill.’
‘Keep calm.’ said the man who was drowning, ‘ Breathe deeply and lie quite still.’
‘Oh dear, ‘ said the man with the awful disease. ‘I think I’m going to die.’
But apart from that,
And a fire in my flat,
It’s been a very nice day.
In this section, it was “the man with the disease” who requested “help,” though again the wording shows a laughable quality by referring to these sorts of proclamations by using the verb, “said.” If a person were about to pass on, after all, their calls for “help” would probably be much more powerful than a calm word that is “said.” There is also irony in that “the shore” “man” reached out to the “drowning” one for assistance as if he were in a position to “help,” because he seemed “ill.” The “drowning” person offered what “help” he could, though, by giving him advice on the matter, but “the man with the awful disease” simply declared he was “going to die.” When this response was given, “the man who was drowning,” simply bid him “[f]arewell,” to which the other replied with “goodbye.”
This conversation was ridiculous for a pair of individuals who were on the brink of death, and this boosts the earlier noted concept of mocking “man[’s]” selfishness—as does using “drownded” instead of “drowned.” As well, the notion of responsibility is further expounded upon since the “drowning” person offered assistance that seemed the best he could provide at that moment. Whereas “the man with the disease” could have feasibly left “the shore” to save the other, “the man who was drowning” was arguably only capable of words.
Unless this “awful disease” removed his physical capabilities to swim and rescue, which could be doubtful based on how clear-minded he seemed during this discussion, “the man with the disease” proved the worse of these two because he could provide more than advice. As well, his advice was incredibly basic, “try staying alive,” in contrast to “the man who was drowning[‘s]” advice to “[b]reathe deeply and lie quite still.” Essentially, both seemed unconcerned, given the casualness of the conversation, with the other’s plight, but once more the opportunity for assistance from “the man” on “shore” makes the one who was “disease[d]” feel more selfish.
This lack of concern and self-interest is escalated in the final three lines of ‘Have a Nice Day’. Upon both parties dying, the narrator comments, “But apart from that, [a]nd a fire in my flat, [i]t’s been a very nice day.” The notion that the narrator sees fit to address his “flat” after two people have lost their lives shows his selfishness since he is grouping something that, while tragic, does not conclusively compare to the loss of life.
Furthermore, he ends ‘Have a Nice Day’ by saying that the “day” has “been a very nice” one. There is no way to sensibly label two innocent people dying—“[a]nd a fire” as well—as a good “day,” and the preposterous notion is perhaps the best element of the poem for both acknowledging the mocking tone of the work and showing how people exist in a self-interested bubble. Neither “man” in the earlier lines cared too strongly about the other’s situation, and the narrator shows hardly any care at all.
This bizarre poem is bizarre purposely, basically, and addresses how selfish people can be and how unprofitable it could prove for the general population. Both parties “die[d],” and neither were effectively grieved. Still, the selfishness continued to the narrator, showing a continuous nature that still makes humanity a bit absurd—like claiming a day when two people “die[d]” as a “nice day.”
About Spike Milligan
Spike Milligan was born in India in 1918, and he was an actor in addition to being a writer. Throughout his life, he had six children, and he was also noted to have bipolar disorder. What might be his most noted success was his involvement with The Goon Show. He passed away in 2002.