Monday, April 16, 2007

Death in Blacksburg

A tragedy of yet-to-be-understood proportions has taken place at Virginia Tech today. Early news reports disagree about the numbers, but it appears that perhaps over 30 people are dead, stemming from a shooting spree on two locations of the campus.

“‘This is a tragedy of monumental proportions,’ Virginia Tech president Charles Steger told reporters.’

Naturally, for those of us old enough to remember it, this brings to mind the Aug. 1, 1966 shootings by gunman Charles Whitman on the University of Texas campus, which left 15 people dead. And, no matter how old one is this unfolding story from Blacksburg sets the mind reeling.

While I realize this will likely create another tidal wave of angry opinions, accusations, name-callings, and you-name-it in the blogosphere, for today, I’m going to stay out of that rush to hurl quick takes on the story of a mass murder before the facts have been established.

Moreover, to me, it is a bad idea for a blogger (or anyone) to try to score points on their usual rivals at this time by using a preexisting set of political opinions. Hell, the facts are still coming in; the bodies aren’t even cold yet. It’s just too soon for drawing conclusions and being a know-it-all about what this will/should mean in the world of politics.

Some might say it’s rather indecent to be bloviating on gun control, and such, while the families and friends of the dead and wounded are still in the process of learning the sad truth. Some parents are probably still trying to find out if their kids are alive.

Thus, my advice to my readers and fellow bloggers is to hold off on all that for a day or so. It will keep.

Instead, it may be better to look to less literal modes of expression than dwelling on news stories, or opinion-writing, to connect with how you feel in your gut. It’s at a time such as this that music, art and even poetry maybe come closer to expressing our feelings, or comforting us.

My thought upon hearing the news of the shootings in Blacksburg?

It brought to mind the picture of modern madness that was painted by Irish poet W.B. Yeats in his “The Second Coming” (1921).


The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
-- William Butler Yeats


In the days to come we will hear/read a lot about this shock to our sense of what is possible, and what is not. The identity of the now dead culprit, who is thought to have acted alone -- but who knows? -- may reveal clues to his motive. On the other hand, we may never really understand why this thing happened in Blacksburg. Whatever else it was ... it was an act of utter madness.

1 comment:

Georgie Ross said...

Thanks for including the W.B. Yeats poem, it provides the best commentary I've heard on the subject so far today, and is cathartic to boot... sure beats the mindless repetition on the 24-hour news outlets.