The Cold Within

The poet says that ‘six humans’ get trapped by chance in a bitter cold. He uses the word ‘happenstance’, which is quite ironic. Happenstance means ‘chance, especially when it results in something good’. Here the end is quite tragic, thus ironic.
They were sitting near the fire which was fast dying. Each one had a stick of wood, which they could use to keep the fire burning.
In the next stanza, we see that the fire was fast dying. The first man refused to renounce his stick of wood because he saw a black man among them. Thus, his racial prejudice prevented him from helping his fellow men.
The next man found that one of the persons present there did not belong to his religion. Thus, he could not bring himself to give his stick to help a person belonging to another religion.
The third man was poor and thought it quite unfair that his stick should be used to warm the rich man. He did not wish to help those who already had more than he.
The fourth man was quite wealthy. He just sat back and thought of all the wealth he had gathered by exploiting the poor.
The black man felt it was his time to take his revenge on the white. He could see the fire dying, but he was overcome with his hatred for the white and chose to keep his stick with him.
The last man in this forlorn group had no trace of generosity. When he saw that no one came forward to help the others, he too decided to hold on to his stick. He was in no mood to take/show the lead.
Finally the fire died out and all the men ceased to be! The author says that they didn’t die because of the cold outside, but they died because of the ‘cold within’.


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  • Q1

    Their logs held tight in death’s still hands

    Was proof of human sin.

    They didn’t die from the cold without

    They died from the cold within.

    Q1. Who are 'they' referred to here? What are they doing?

    Q2. What is the figure of speech used in 'death's still hands'?

    Q3. What does the poet mean when he says that they ' didn't die from the cold without'?

    Q4. What message does the poet wants to convey?

    Q5. What does the phrase 'cold within' mean? How is it responsible for their deaths?


    1. They refers to six 'humans' who are trapped in bitter cold by happenstance. All of them hold on to their stick of wood and refuse to give it up to keep the fire burning.
    2. The figure of speech used here is personification.
    3. The poet says that it wasn't the bitter cold that caused their deaths. It was in fact, the coldness in their hearts that proved fatal to them.
    4. What Kinney is trying to explain in his poem ‘The Cold Within’ is that coldness in men’s heart is a kind of death. We must renounce our prejudices and live together with a feeling of brotherhood.
    5. Each one knows that they need fire to survive the bitter cold, however no one is willing to give up his stick for one reason or the other. What Kinney is trying to explain here is that coldness in men’s heart is a kind of death. Here is it both literal and metaphorical death. The coldness that we carry in our hearts is more fatal to us than the bitter cold outside, as it has the capacity to poison our souls.

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  • Q2

    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?

    Q1. What does the phrase “tattered clothes” suggest?

    Q2. Why does he hold on to his stick?

    Q3. What did they need for survival?

    Q4. Why did the third human decide not to “warm the idle rich”?

    Q5. Do you think all the six men were aware of the consequences of their actions?


    1. The phrase suggests that the 'human' being talked about in the above stanza is in fact poor.
    2. The poor man holds on to his stick because he doesn't wish to help the rich who already has more than him.
    3. They needed stick of woods to keep the fire burning. They were trapped in bitter cold. Keeping the fire burning was their only way of survival.
    4. He did not wish to warm the idle rich because he felt that the rich already have more than the poor and hence decided against giving his stick to help the rich.
    5. Yes, it can be assumed that all the six men were aware of the consequences of their actions. Keeping the fire burning was the only way of their survival.

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  • Q3

    Six humans trapped by happenstance

    In bleak and bitter cold.

    Each one possessed a stick of wood

    Or so the story’s told.

    Q1. What does the word “happenstance” mean?

    Q2. What brought these “six humans” together? Do you think the purpose was served?

    Q3. What happened to these six humans?

    Q4. What is the significance of logs?

    Q5. What could these six humans have done?


    1. Happenstance means ‘chance, especially when it results in something good’.
    2. According to the poet, it is the destiny that brought these six humans together. They could have learnt an important lesson in life. They could have renounced their sticks for their own best interest and that of others. However none of them gives up their stick and all of them end up dead.
    3. All the six men ended up dead as none of them was ready to give up the logs to keep the fire burning.
    4. Their dying fire in need of logs” literally means the fire that is keeping them warm, but also stands out as a metaphor for the burning of their sinful souls. The sticks could be the symbols of their sins.
    5. They could have given up their sticks to help each other and save each other's lives.

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