ICSE English — The Cold Within — Explanation
The Cold Within by James Patrick Kinney
Introduction … The Cold Within, as a poem, appears like a sermon. It underlines the eternal values cherished by mankind, such as compassion, altruism, empathy, tolerance, and social conscience. We all know how selfishness, bigotry, racial prejudice, arrogance, and vainglorious tendencies have brought the human race untold misery, wars, deprivation, strife, and bloody revolutions. Despite the realization that these ingrained evil tendencies blight our moral conscience, and deprive us of peace, we continue to be held hostage to these evils. The author, an American, has used simple examples of six depraved persons, who have destroyed themselves in a cold night just because none of them was willing to put the log at their possession to the fire that went out, eventually freezing the selfish six to death.
It is an irony that the poem was rejected initially by the publishers as it was perceived to be too ‘liberal’ in its views! Still more ironical is the fact that modern day America under the present administration has found new virtue in looking inwards in the most self-centered manner, ignoring the centuries-old values it preached and practiced.
The poem …
Stanza 1 .. By some coincidence, six people, each having a piece of wood have gathered in a place when the mercury has plummeted insufferably low.
Stanza 2.. The fire they are standing around is losing its strength for want of fresh fuel. All the six members are aware that the fire needs to be replenished with wood to keep it going. There was a white woman in the gang, who spotted that there stood among them a human being with a dark skin. She reasoned that her log must not be sacrificed to keep a ‘colored’ man warm.
Stanza 3 .. Another member found that there stood another human being who worshipped God in a different way. He quickly concluded that he shouldn’t put his log in fire to keep such a human being warm in that cold bitter night. Rivalry and intolerance of other faiths lighted his moral sense.
Stanza 4 .. There was a person whose torn and shabby clothes showed that he was a poor man. He was zealous, and stupid. He felt he must not feed the dying fire with his own piece of wood, because the rich being indolent and bloated, do not deserve any consideration from a poor man like him.
Stanza 5 .. There was a rich man in the group. Even when the fire was losing its battle against the biting cold, he was lost in the thought of preserving his wealth from the avaricious eyes of the poor. He didn’t part with his piece of birch.
Stanza 6 .. There was a black man in the group. His heart was full with bitterness against the rich and other members of the group. After all, he has suffered in their hands in life, because he was born black. With such myopic conscience, he decided not to put his wood in the fire starving for fuel.
Stanza 7 .. The next man in the group was too self-centered. He never engaged in any act of sharing and giving. He gave, only if there was something to get in return. So, calculative was he. Benevolence was totally alien to him. Quite understandably, he felt he should not give his wood to the dying fire.
Stanza 8 .. All the six members clutched their pieces of log, and saw the fire slowly dying out. Then came the ghoulish cold, creeping like a cobra. Slowly, but steadily, it gripped the six selfish and stupid souls and drained them of life. The death was excruciatingly painful.
Conclusion.. This poem is a brilliant allegory which will remain relevant till such time humans walk on earth. The evil in humans will never die, and will continue to bring misery and death, relentlessly. The poem, in holding a mirror to mankind, will continue to urge people to be humane, considerate, tolerant and open.