“Murderers are easy to understand,” bluntly says the German-language poet Rainer Maria Rilke in his 4th Elegy. Then why do we spend so much time on them? When another awful one happens, the news media go berserk & everyone spends hours reading & watching & discussing the accounts. Are we really that dense, that unimaginative?
In one of The Sonnets to Orpheus (II, 11) Rilke goes deeper & observes, “Killing is a form of our wandering sorrow . . .” In contrast to that, we feel sorrow for the victims only briefly, and then we want vengeance & retribution & punishment. But laws actually stop only some people. The death penalty? Kill people to teach people that killing people is wrong? I don’t think so.
What about the murderer within all of us? Even ol’ Jesus spoke of that: “You have heard it said ‘You shall not kill & whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment.” (Matt. 5:21-22)
Perhaps the form our sorrow takes (for others) is misdirected. Perhaps we are really unconsciously sorrowing for our own death. Most people don’t like to think of their mortality, & indeed many think they won’t die when they die. Good luck with that one, is all I (& Rilke) can say.
There ain’t nothing new in all this. I discuss it a bit more in the “Epilogue” of my Rilke on Love book, which I wrote in 1972.