Good Friday, Revisiting Glamis

“Not in the legions
Of horrid Hell can come a devil more damn’d
In evils, to top Macbeth” —Shakespeare

The Dunblane massacre took place at Dunblane Primary School in Dunblane, near Stirling, Scotland, on 13 March 1996, when Thomas Hamilton shot dead 16 pupils and one teacher, and injured 15 others, before killing himself. It remains the deadliest mass shooting in British history.

Poor Shakespeare: how naive, and didn’t know his Dante either—
Compared with back-stabbing Judas, Macbeth’s light as a gull’s feather;
Treachery’s the thing.

Point is: we understand Macbeth—of course he had to
Sack castles and his king, kill friends, their wives and kids and go
The whole black magic thing.

He wanted power: it’s all explained and it makes sense—oh, sure,
It’s inconvenient being in his way or (matter of fact) anywhere
Near his ambition thing.

But deep-down Macbeth is likeable—just let him be secure
And he’ll not gild a groom—might even help the poor
Doing his king thing.

Judas, on the other hand, represents a mystery:
He gained the money but then to hang and spill his guts, deny
Himself the living thing?

I think from this the case conclusive: Macbeth was not so bad
And, coming to the present and other criminals we’ve had
Who’ve done their thing,

He only ranks as one of many, misled, deceived
By voices forgetting to inform a one-way street
Leads to being no-thing.

But then, the bubble of burble bursts, another oubliette opens:
Through the grill segmented light breaks, with shadows broken,
And a face, like Judas’ face, penned at birth with human tokens
Looks no human thing.

And I’m appalled—disgraced even watching how he moves:
No such thing exists as hate, only entire absence of love;
Replaying that scene—those innocents—he had to have

That Dunblane thing.



James Sale has had over 50 books published, most recently, “Mapping Motivation for Top Performing Teams” (Routledge, 2021). He has been nominated by The Hong Kong Review for the 2022 Pushcart Prize for poetry, has won first prize in The Society of Classical Poets 2017 annual competition, and performed in New York in 2019. He is a regular contributor to The Epoch Times. His most recent poetry collection is “StairWell.” For more information about the author, and about his Dante project, visit https://englishcantos.home.blog. To subscribe to his brief, free and monthly poetry newsletter, contact him at James@motivationalmaps.com

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17 Responses

  1. Roy Eugene Peterson

    I have great sympathy for Dunblane, Scotland, and the UK for such senseless acts that have no reason or justification! A tyrant or psychopath may not even need hate to perform his dreaded acts of pure murder. You are on the right track with Macbeth consolidating power or the mixed bag of motives by Judas including disappointment and greed. Interesting rhymes with the repetitive “thing” ending each verse, with “thing” being a perfect word for indescribable acts of perfidy!

    • James Sale

      Dear Roy – thanks for this. You are quite right about the word ‘thing’. Wearing my other hat, as a management consultant, in my book, Mapping Motivation for Leadership (Routledge, 2020), the final chapter, Leading to Motivating Employees, has a whole section on the difference between leaders/managers who treat their staff as ‘people’ versus those who treat them as ‘things’. Among the distinctions I mention in the book are: things are solid/predictable v. people who are ambiguous/uncertain (hence the corporate preference: no ‘negative capability’); things are anonymous and objective v. people are individual and subjective; things are ‘eternal’ and unchanging v. people who are time-based and changing (what a faff, therefore, to have to deal with them!) Taken to its extreme, we see in my poem what happens when people are ‘things’.

  2. Patricia

    Dear James, taking the lives of innocents affects those like yours with a soul but I wonder about the unborn who are shred as easily as heads of lettuce, under the slogan, ‘my body, my choice.’ And hundreds of the unborn die in the USA daily, under the aegis of that murderous slogan!
    I liked the phrase, “But then, the bubble of burble bursts”, and the lines in that stanza show what an outstanding poet you are,.
    Not to mention your last line, which is poetic artistry:
    “ That Dunblane thing, “ a perfect close, to a perfect poem.
    In appreciation ,

    • James Sale

      Thank you for your kind words, Patricia – I perhaps would never claim perfection for my words or my poems myself, but I thoroughly enjoy the fact you think so: it’s very encouraging! Indeed, it made me feel like starting work again in Canto 4 of DoorWay!

  3. Cynthia Erlandson

    I, too, am fascinated by both the original form of this poem — particularly the refrain-like repetition of “thing” in three-meter lines, and the unusually long lines leading to them — and the content, especially the comparison of Macbeth with Judas and their mysterious, or not-so-mysterious, motivations.

    • James Sale

      Thanks so much Cynthia – it always great when someone picks up on the form of a poem. You are right; it is original; and almost free verse but definitely not, if that makes sense! There is a para-meter, forms of pararhyme, the stanzaic structure is varied towards the end, and even the refrain gets a ‘wash’ as we progress through. My own view – if it helps you with the fascination of it – is of course the most underrated aspect of writing good poetry: namely, the syntax, which weaves, I’d like to think, a sort of irresistible spell as we move towards the climax.

  4. jd

    I like the use of the vernacular in a classical poem with reference to a subject in classical literature and another from the Bible. It seems fresh and unusual. The repetition of the “thing”, another modernity, is very effective also.

    • James Sale

      Thanks JD – yes, I like the use of the vernacular too: it can be very expressive even in this odd context. I don’t like modernism, but I like modernity, so thanks for that too!

  5. ABB

    What a moving poem, and such an interesting structure. The use of near rhymes prevents it from becoming inappropriately sing-songy for its subject. And the way that ‘thing’ bluntly cuts short the sprawling lines leading up to it! Writing about a near-contemporary event through the lens of famous literary representations elevates this far above the level of the newsy poem that, while having relevance, dates quickly.
    I had not previously heard of this mass shooting. It even predates Columbine by a few years! Of course, we have to deal with this sort of ‘thing’ so often in America that they stop reporting about it in the news. Which doesn’t detract from the horror, but the frequency does blunt one to the force of the trend, and the individual tragedy involved for families whose lives are ruined forever by the death of a child. This is the most profound poetical reflection on the subject I have read.

    • James Sale

      Thanks ABB – I am really glad you found this so enjoyable, as well as profound. You are right about perfect rhymes proving an obstacle to the underlying ‘message’, if that is the right word, for what is really of course a complete sensory experience/entity in its own right. Too perfect harmony here would, I believe, militate against the shadowy horrors that are being alluded to, and which build to their finale. These events are too awful for words, yet still we need words to attempt to come to terms with them.

  6. Paul Freeman

    A lot to digest in analysing the ranks of evil.

    This line had me thinking – ‘No such thing exists as hate, only entire absence of love.’ It goes some way to explaining this type of crime, if indeed it is explainable.

    The style of the poem is very readable, leaving the reader with their full attention on content and topic rather than form.

    It’s so depressing that this sort of crime against young children, though usually on a lesser scale, is on the increase, especially in the Far East.

    • James Sale

      Thanks for this Paul – very thoughtful response. In the Bible of course evil is described as ‘a mystery’, for what we find is that there is no explaining it. That said, the root concept that I believe evil – Satan – is always attempting to encompass is non-existence; in other words to counter the creation that was described by God as ‘very good’. In Shakespeare perhaps my favourite example of the evil character is Iago: the seemingly motiveless malignity that informs all his actions. In real life a great and obvious example is Hitler: who’d rather bring out the wholesale destruction of Germany – heck, the world – rather than face his own accountability, hence his suicide.

  7. Michael Pietrack

    I will be musing on:

    No such thing exists as hate, only entire absence of love

    Is hate a void where love should be? I picture hate as a disgusting THING, but perhaps it is no-thing but the absence of some-thing, namely love. Food for thought.

  8. Nathan McKee

    “And I’m appalled—disgraced even watching how he moves:”

    James, this admission is poignant and made me think, so thank you. It struck me that, perhaps you are appalled because you are recalling a human devoid of all humanity in your mind, and it’s hard to even make sense of such a “thing,” such a monster. Perhaps you are disgraced because, somehow, he belongs to our human race and reminds us of the awful, destructive power of man, sometimes senselessly so.

    As Porcius Licinus puts it, “Ignis homost” – man is fire.

    • James Sale

      Thanks Nathan: yes, I think you are right – always all of us fail in some way, no-one is perfect, but some human beings act so badly that they disgrace being part of our ‘kind’. We see this sometimes when we say, ‘even an animal wouldn’t do that’. Oh, for that fire that refines us … Poi s’ascose nel foco che li affina.

      • Nathan McKee

        I wish I had Italian, however, the (divine) refining fire you mentioned is much preferable to the destructive one in human nature, which is what I believe Porcius was getting at. I got eerie chills when I first comprehended his poem, “Ignis Homo Est.” The same eerie subject that you touched on in your poem. Thanks for sharing it with us.

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