Synopsis of The Cold Within by James Patrick Kinney

The Cold Within Overview

Synopsis of The Cold Within by James Patrick Kinney

About the Poet of The Cold Within

James Kinney (1923-1974) was born in a very poor Irish family in Cincinnati and had a very tough childhood. He went to the 10th grade of high school when he dropped out to take care of his mother. Because of that, he spent his whole life self-educating and in the process, started reading and writing poetry. After a brief stint with the Civilian Conservation Corps, he joined the army and was stationed in the Philippines as a radioman. On his return to the USA, he started writing more extensively. Apart from The Cold Within, which is his best-known piece, he wrote a number of poems that were published in different magazines. Some of these include Of A Rejected Poem, Of Life's Sad Moments, I Can't Change You, This Dream Bemusing, Tomorrow's Another Day, Never Alone and What is Success. During his lifetime, none of his collections was brought out. Now, all his poems are available on the blog 'ALL THINGS IF' run by his wife and son.

About the Poem The Cold Within

"The Cold Within" was written in the 1960s by the American poet James Patrick Kinney. In almost five decades since its publication, the poem has achieved great popularity, appearing in countless church bulletins, websites and teaching seminars, as well as magazines and newspapers. The poem was first submitted to the Saturday Evening Post, but it was rejected as "too controversial for the time". Kinney sent it later to Liguorian, a Catholic magazine, which was the first commercial publication to print it. At the outset, the poem was read at an ecumenical council meeting, after which the ministers, priests and rabbis in attendance requested copies of it. They read the poem to their congregations and, before long, The Cold Within became well known throughout the United States.

Summary of The Cold Within

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.

Critical Analysis of The Cold Within

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 Kin ey'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.


happenstance - a chance occurrence: coincidence:
possessed – kept;
logs - pieces of wood;
tattered – torn;
idle - inactive;
shiftless - good-for-nothing: lazy:
bespoke - showed signs of something:
spite - retaliate with malice;
forlorn - sad; dejected:
nought - nothing 

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