Lamentation and Weeping in Newtown

navez, massacre of the innocents

Francois Joseph Navez, “Massacre of the Innocents” (1824)

No words can capture the horror and the sadness of the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Yet words are what we have, and as this is the Christmas season, I am reminded of the slaughter of the innocents that followed the first Christmas. King Herod, told by the wise men that a king had been born and fearing a future rival, ordered the slaughter of all newborn babies.  Israel is personified as Rachel in the passage from Matthew (2:18):

In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, 
Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not. (Matthew 2:18)

This passage is referred to in Moby Dick as Captain Ahab meets Captain Gardiner, captain of the Rachel. Gardiner has lost his 12-year-old son overboard and is obsessively searching for him—as the parents rushing to Sandy Hook Elementary School desperately searched for theirs. Gardiner asks for Ahab’s help but Ahab is so obsessed with his quest for the White Whale that he refuses. Ishamel looks back at the Rachel as it sails away:

But by her still halting course and winding, woeful way, you plainly saw that this ship that so wept with spray, still remained without comfort. She was Rachel, weeping for her children, because they were not.

To this oceanic sadness I add my anger at anyone who, because of political expedience, avarice or other base motives, refuses to seriously grapple with America’s gun problem, especially the easy access to automatic weapons. That person has no place at the funerals of these children. As a raging Wilfred Owen said to those responsible for sending thousands of young men to their deaths in the World War I trenches,

Weep, you may weep, for you may touch them not.

This entry was posted in Bible, Melville (Herman), Owen (Wilfred) and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

  • Sign up for weekly newsletter

    Your email will not be shared or sold.
    * = required field

    powered by MailChimp!
  • Twitter Authentication data is incomplete