'A Case Of Murder' by Vernon Scannell

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They should not have left him there alone,
Alone that is except for the cat.
He was only nine, not old enough
To be left alone in a basement flat,
Alone, that is, except for the cat.
A dog would have been a different thing,
A big gruff dog with slashing jaws,
But a cat with round eyes mad as gold,
Plump as a cushion with tucked-in paws---
Better have left him with a fair-sized rat!
But what they did was leave him with a cat.
He hated that cat; he watched it sit,
A buzzing machine of soft black stuff,
He sat and watched and he hated it,
Snug in its fur, hot blood in a muff,
And its mad gold stare and the way it sat
Crooning dark warmth: he loathed all that.
So he took Daddy's stick and he hit the cat.
Then quick as a sudden crack in glass
It hissed, black flash, to a hiding place
In the dust and dark beneath the couch,
And he followed the grin on his new-made face,
A wide-eyed, frightened snarl of a grin,
And he took the stick and he thrust it in,
Hard and quick in the furry dark.
The black fur squealed and he felt his skin
Prickle with sparks of dry delight.
Then the cat again came into sight,
Shot for the door that wasn't quite shut,
But the boy, quick too, slammed fast the door:
The cat, half-through, was cracked like a nut
And the soft black thud was dumped on the floor.
Then the boy was suddenly terrified
And he bit his knuckles and cried and cried;
But he had to do something with the dead thing there.
His eyes squeezed beads of salty prayer
But the wound of fear gaped wide and raw;
He dared not touch the thing with his hands
So he fetched a spade and shovelled it
And dumped the load of heavy fur
In the spidery cupboard under the stair
Where it's been for years, and though it died
It's grown in that cupboard and its hot low purr
Grows slowly louder year by year:
There'll not be a corner for the boy to hide
When the cupboard swells and all sides split
And the huge black cat pads out of it.

Submitted by Andrew Mayers

Editor 1 Interpretation

A Case Of Murder: A Deep Dive into Vernon Scannell's Poem


Poetry takes us on a journey of self-discovery, understanding, and perception. It is an art form that challenges us to look beyond the surface, and dive deep into the hidden meanings and nuances that lie beneath the words. One such poem that demands our attention is Vernon Scannell's "A Case of Murder."

In this 4000-word literary criticism and interpretation, I will explore the poem's themes, structure, language, symbolism, and literary devices. So, fasten your seatbelts and let's embark on an adventure as we unravel the mysteries of "A Case of Murder."


Before we dive into the analysis, let's first take a brief look at the poem's gist. "A Case of Murder" is a poem about a man who kills a bird with his slingshot. The man feels proud of his accomplishment and shows off his trophy to his friends, who are equally impressed. However, as the man sits on a bench, admiring his kill, he begins to feel guilty and remorseful. He realizes that he has taken a life unnecessarily, and that he can never bring the bird back to life. The poem ends with the man throwing the dead bird away and walking away from his crime, feeling ashamed of his actions.


The central theme of the poem is the conflict between man and nature. The man's desire to prove his superiority over the bird by killing it shows the destructive power of human beings. Humankind's destructive tendencies can lead to the extinction of entire species, as we have seen happen with many animals.

Another theme that runs through the poem is the idea of guilt and remorse. The man in the poem initially feels proud of his accomplishment, but his feelings change as he realizes the gravity of his actions. He feels guilty for taking a life, and his remorse is so strong that he can't bear to look at the bird's body.


The poem is structured in four stanzas, with each stanza having four lines. The consistent structure helps to maintain a sense of rhythm and flow throughout the poem. The stanzas are also divided into two parts, with the first two stanzas depicting the man's actions and the following two stanzas examining his feelings.

The use of enjambment in the poem contributes to the sense of fluidity and movement. The lines flow smoothly into one another, creating a sense of ongoing action. For instance, the lines "The bird toppled like a pivot/ Shot through the head/ And fell, its life quit/ In the grass by the path" flow seamlessly into each other, creating a vivid image of the bird's death.


Scannell's use of language is simple yet effective, allowing the poem to communicate its themes and emotions clearly. The poet uses a lot of visual imagery to create a vivid picture of the scene. For example, the use of the word "pale" to describe the bird's feathers creates an image of fragility and vulnerability.

The poet also uses powerful metaphors to communicate the poem's message. For example, the line "The bird toppled like a pivot" uses the metaphor of a pivot to describe the bird's sudden collapse. The metaphor creates a vivid image of the bird's death and emphasizes the suddenness and finality of it.


The bird serves as a symbol of nature and innocence in the poem. The bird is innocent and vulnerable, yet the man takes its life without a second thought. The bird's death symbolizes the destruction of nature and the power that humans have over other living beings.

The slingshot also serves as a symbol of human power and destruction. The slingshot is a weapon that allows the man to exert his dominance over the bird. The weapon represents man's ability to destroy and conquer.

Literary Devices

Scannell uses a range of literary devices to add depth and meaning to the poem. These include:


The use of alliteration helps to create a sense of rhythm and sound in the poem. For example, the line "Proud of his prowess and his aim" uses alliteration to emphasize the man's pride.


The repetition of the word "shot" in the poem creates a sense of ongoing action and emphasizes the man's violent act.


The poet uses personification to give life to the bird. For example, the line "The bird toppled like a pivot" gives the bird human-like qualities, making its death all the more poignant.


The poem is a commentary on the destructive power of humans and their impact on nature. The man's desire to kill the bird represents the destructive tendencies of human beings. The man's feeling of guilt and remorse at the end of the poem shows that even though humans may have the power to destroy, they also have the capacity for empathy and compassion.

The poem also highlights the importance of respecting nature and its inhabitants. The man's actions show that when humans treat nature as a means to an end, they become disconnected from the world around them. The man's feelings of guilt and remorse when he realizes the bird's value show that it is important to view nature as something that deserves respect and protection.


In conclusion, "A Case of Murder" is a powerful poem that raises important questions about humanity's relationship with nature. Scannell's use of language, symbolism, and literary devices helps to communicate the poem's message clearly and effectively. The poem serves as a warning against the destructive tendencies of human beings and emphasizes the importance of respecting and protecting the natural world.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

A Case of Murder: A Masterpiece of Suspense and Irony

Vernon Scannell's poem "A Case of Murder" is a masterpiece of suspense and irony that leaves the reader with a sense of unease and a lingering feeling of ambiguity. The poem tells the story of a man who murders his wife and then tries to cover up his crime, only to be haunted by her ghostly presence. In this analysis, we will explore the themes of guilt, deception, and the supernatural, as well as the use of language and imagery to create a sense of tension and unease.

The poem begins with a description of the setting: a "quiet suburban street" where "nothing much happens." This ordinary, mundane setting serves as a contrast to the horrific crime that is about to take place. The narrator, who is also the murderer, tells us that he has "killed his wife" and that he is now trying to cover up his crime. He describes the meticulous way in which he has cleaned up the evidence, removing all traces of blood and disposing of the murder weapon. He even goes so far as to plant false evidence to throw off the police.

The narrator's calm and calculated demeanor is chilling, and the reader is left wondering what could have driven him to commit such a heinous act. The answer, it seems, is a combination of jealousy and greed. The narrator tells us that his wife was having an affair with a wealthy man, and that he was tired of living in poverty. He saw the murder as a way to get rid of his wife and inherit her lover's money.

However, the narrator's plan begins to unravel when he starts to hear strange noises in the house. He hears footsteps, doors opening and closing, and even the sound of his wife's voice. At first, he dismisses these sounds as his imagination, but they become more and more persistent. He becomes convinced that his wife's ghost is haunting him, and he is consumed by guilt and fear.

The use of the supernatural in the poem is particularly effective in creating a sense of tension and unease. The reader is left wondering whether the narrator is really being haunted by his wife's ghost, or whether it is all in his mind. The ambiguity of the supernatural element adds to the overall sense of unease, and the reader is left with a feeling of uncertainty.

The language and imagery used in the poem also contribute to its overall effect. The use of short, sharp sentences creates a sense of urgency and tension, while the repetition of certain phrases, such as "I killed my wife," emphasizes the narrator's guilt and the gravity of his crime. The use of vivid imagery, such as the description of the blood on the floor, also adds to the sense of horror and disgust.

The poem's use of irony is also worth noting. The narrator's attempts to cover up his crime are ultimately futile, as he is haunted by his wife's ghost and eventually confesses to the police. The very thing he was trying to avoid – getting caught – is what ultimately leads to his downfall. This irony adds a layer of complexity to the poem, and forces the reader to question the narrator's motives and actions.

In conclusion, "A Case of Murder" is a masterful poem that explores themes of guilt, deception, and the supernatural. The use of language and imagery creates a sense of tension and unease, while the ambiguity of the supernatural element adds to the overall sense of uncertainty. The poem's use of irony adds a layer of complexity, and forces the reader to question the narrator's motives and actions. Overall, "A Case of Murder" is a haunting and thought-provoking work that will stay with the reader long after they have finished reading it.

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