The Cold Within Analysis by James Patrick Kinney


Written in 1960s, during African American Civil Rights Movement, this poem depicts the inhuman discrimination that was prevalent at that moment. The poet here tries to depict the folly of the age of falling prey to discrimination of all forms without considering the consequences of the same. The poem was first read in a Church from where it has passed on to many hands. After which, the poem first appeared in print as “By Anonymous” in a Dear Abby Column. It was only in January 2000 issue of a Catholic publication called Liguorian, where it the name of the poet was first made known on print. This poem is written in 8 quatrains with an end rhyme scheme of abcb. To go through a detailed summary of The Cold Within here. In this article, we have discussed The Cold Within Analysis by James Patrick Kinney.

Poetic Devices in The Cold Within:

This poem is written in the form of a parable and hence, the poetic devices used in this poem are the devices generally used in a parable.

James has used the device of allegory as in the reference of “wood” which might also mean the resources and the abilities and capabilities of an individual to serve the human good.

Further, the lines such as ”Their logs held tight in death’s still hands” is an example of the use of personification, where the poet has personified death into a human with a still hand.

Lines such as, “ In bleak and bitter cold” the usage of allegory is evident. The poem is further filled with plenty of visual imageries to keep its readers hooked.

Other than the above-mentioned devices used in this poem are metaphor, metonymy, and symbolism. All these poetic devices, when used together, has helped to attain the tone of the poem while also keeping its readers interested in the story and the message alike.


The poem is a parable has the tone of a narration and a mixture of poetry and prose.

The overall tone of the poem is simple, fast-paced, serious, and interesting. This particular tone of the poem has ensured that its readers are hooked while also allowing them to understand that in a world where hatred prevails, humanity parishes at a faster pace. The tone of the poem is similar to the tales written in scriptures and hence gives a sense of a moral lesson being taught by a preacher in a church or so.

The Theme of The Cold Within:

The poem, “The Cold Within” is based upon the central theme of discrimination. The poet here has beautifully depicted different forms of discrimination through his seven characters.

Apart from this obvious theme of the poem, the other theme that is worth noting is hatred. Each character hates the other characters and hence, fails to take action to save the life of others or of the self alike.

Another theme that surfaces in the poem is that of revenge. One who has been a victim of discrimination, himself turns into an abuser when given the opportunity; the instance of the black man holding back his log so as to spite the white.

Similarly, selfishness can also be considered to be one of the many themes of the poem. Each individual is selfish enough to part with their log, as they are more concerned about not helping others than save themselves.

Cold is also a recurring theme in the poem. However, cold in the context of the poem holds two meaning; one at a surface level which refers to the cold weather whereas, at a deeper level the poet uses the word “cold” to refer to the cold hearts of each individual.

Similarly again, fire, another theme of the poem also has two meanings; one refers to the fire created by burning woods to generate heat while the other meaning signifies the fire of humanity inside every individual. The term “fire” in the poem can also be considered to mean the American nation which was slowly dying under the pressure of all sorts of discrimination prevalent at the time of African American Civil Rights Movement.

Hence, are the different themes of the poem.

Central Idea of The Cold Within:

The central idea of the poem is to enlighten its readers about the futility of holding hatred against others and discriminating them on the petty grounds of color, religion, economic standard and so.

The poem talks about all these issues while in the end concludes that death is inevitable in a society where hatred prevails.

The poet demonstrates different forms of discrimination that is prevalent in the society. He does so by placing an individual who would represent each of the above-mentioned sections of the society together, where their survival depends upon helping each other by which they will ultimately help themselves.

But none of the “six humans” are ready to let go of neither their egos nor the prejudices that they hold against the others. Their strong emotions of hatred, selfishness, and revenge defeat their rationality. In the end, they all die. But not out of the “bitter cold” weather but rather because of their cold hearts.

They all choose to die rather than help the other individual who is a little different from them in some manner or the other.

Critical Appreciation in The Cold Within:

The poem written during the African American Civil Rights Movement has very well depicted the tensions that were prevalent between different communities at that time in America.

James, being a radioman for the army himself, has very well understood the struggle of that time. He was outraged by the discrimination that he was witnessing at that time.

While the fact that he himself was a devoted Christian may be considered a reason for him to choose the style of a poetic parable to voice his opinions on such a controversial topic of the time; the reason that Bible also uses the technique of parables to teach the humans about their follies and help them better themselves.

During this Civil Rights movement, James was an active participant and hence, he understood the situation better. But unlike other writers, his intention was not to enchant his readers by the use of colloquial words but was to bring this notion of the need to build an egalitarian society so as to ensure that the “dying fire” of America can be revived.

He very well understands that discrimination and hatred do nothing but breaks and pushes a nation towards death. Hence, was this poem. Further, his intelligent choice of writing this poem in the form of a poetic parable, his use of imagery and the fast-paced rhythm of the poem has ensured that his message was received and did not lose its intended effect.

The poem is a comment on the society itself. Though the year of creation of this poem along with the poet’s involvement into the issue makes us believe that it is intended for the American society at that time, but the poetry speaks to the world alike.

James has successfully written a poem that is not bound by the intentions of the poet, or for that matter the name of the poet to be attached with it or the recognition of time and society in which it was created. It is a poem with its own life.

It is one of the finest poetry in the literature which in simpler terms brings home to its readers such a difficult topic, serious and controversial topic as the issue of discrimination. Hope you enjoyed reading The Cold Within Analysis by James Patrick Kinney.

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