The Cold Within by James Patrick Kinney

Six humans trapped by happenstance
In bleak and bitter cold.
Each one possessed a stick of wood
Or so the story’s told

Their dying fire in need of logs,
But the first man held his back.
For of the faces ’round the fire,
He noticed one was black.

The next man looking ‘cross the way
Saw one not of his church.
And couldn’t bring himself to give
the fire his stick of birch.

The third one sat in tattered clothes;
He gave his coat a hitch,
Why should his log be put to use?
To warm the idle rich?

The rich man just sat back
And thought of the wealth he had in store,
And how to keep what he had earned
From the lazy, shiftless poor.

And the black man’s face bespoke revenge
As the fire passed from his sight.
For all he saw in his stick of wood
Was a chance to spite the white.

The last man of this fallen group did nought,
Except for gain.
Giving only to those who gave,
Was how he played the game.

Their logs held tight in death’s still hands
Was proof of human sin.
They did not die from the cold without,
They died from the cold within.

Summary

Simple yet powerful this poem is about the consequences of ‘letting your prejudices control your decisions’. It opens with six people trapped by chance in the biting cold weather and each had a stick of wood. The fire which is keeping them warm is about to die anytime but none is ready to put his/her log to use. The people have different reasons for this. Beginning with the lady who didn’t wanted to save a black man in the group. The next man saw a person not being of his religion. The third one being poor dressed in rags, envied the rich. The rich man did not want to give anything to the undeserving poor. The black man thought it to be a chance to take revenge on the white people and the last man was full of selfishness who would help only if there is something beneficial in return.

In the end, it appears as the sticks they all held tightly in their hands, stood as the symbol of revenge and hatred. They lacked the aura of humanity. The selfish souls invited the death and they died by the coldness of their hearts.

Analysis

The poem “The Cold Within” by James Patrick Kinney consists of 8 stanzas of 4 lines each. The rhyming pattern is abcb for all the stanzas. Each stanza presents a person who has a different prejudice against someone else around the fire. They all make the same decision and all pay the same price for that decision as seen in the end.

Here, the poet employs diction, figurative language, and rhyme to project his point that certain prejudices control people’s lives and actions. Due to these prejudices, we often tend to lose sensitivity towards others regarding them as inferior, hostile or different. The line that Kinney starts his poem with is “six humans trapped by happenstance”. His diction in this line is very important to the overall theme of the poem. By saying “six humans”, it is almost as if he is talking about all humans. If he would have said “people” then we might have different associations with the words. Another curious use of diction is by saying “trapped in happenstance”. Happenstance means an event that might have been arranged although it is accidental. This use of diction is important because by saying that it is accidental, it almost seems arranged, and gives the reader a sense that they are supposed to be there. The fact that he says they are trapped suggests that they do not want to be in the situation, but also they cannot escape.

Figurative language plays a vital role in developing the poem’s theme. “Their dying fire in need of logs” literally means the fire that is keeping them warm, but also stands as a metaphor for their sinful souls. They are committing sins such as racism, envy, arrogance, revenge, and greed.

Opening up and not being greedy would have warmed their souls and saved them. Unfortunately, they are so much blinded by their prejudices against one another that their survival becomes impossible. The rhyme of the poems sets up an easy read. This allows for your eyes to simply guide and take in Kinney’s message: the frigidness of people is what ends up killing them. The rhythm is important to the theme of the story because it makes reading the poem faster. This is important because this indirectly shows how fast arrogance, greed, and sin can “kill” you.

James Patrick Kinney effectively portrays his point about hatred killing. His persuasion in this poem is really helpful in understanding the entirety behind his point. This poem really makes us think about ourselves and the heights to which we would go to either hurt someone else, or save ourselves. The poet uses symbolism to help the reader understand the consequences of holding back their “logs.” The logs represent their prejudices. And because they can’t give them up to keep the fire going, they all die.

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