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The Cold Within -- James Patrick Kinney

Guest poem sent in by Sidharth Jaggi
(Poem #1248) The Cold Within
 Six humans trapped by happenstance
 In dark and bitter cold
 Each possessed a stick of wood--
 Or so the story's told.

 Their dying fire in need of logs,
 But the first one held hers back,
 For, of the faces around the fire,
 She noticed one was black.

 The next one looked cross the way
 Saw one not of his church,
 And could not 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 wealth he had in store,
 And keeping all that he had earned
 From the lazy, shiftless poor.

 The black man's face bespoke revenge
 As the fire passed from his sight,
 For he saw in his stick of wood
 A chance to spite the white.

 And the last man of this forlorn group
 Did nought except for gain,
 Giving just to those who gave
 Was how he played the game,

 Their sticks held tight in death's stilled hands
 Was proof enough of sin;
 They did not die from cold without--
 They died from cold within.
-- James Patrick Kinney
Poetry of the distant past used often to be a medium to
convey high-minded morals in a trite, sugar-coated package
form. The form still survives, but is now usually thought of
disparagingly (with good reason - consider those avoidable
cloyingly sweet Hallmark cards, where one tends to gloss
over the words as easily as water does off the cards) if at
all. But every once in a while one comes across pieces like
the one above where the words fit as neatly as if (dare I
say it? :) God meant them to, and the thinly veiled message
can be swallowed without too much effort.

This above piece is, iMho, a gem. I think it deserves a
place in this forum, especially since minstrels is fast
becoming a premier poetry archive :)

The place I read this poem (framed on a wall) attributed it
to a high school student, sometime in the mid-1970s. A
cursory search on the net hasn't helped much either - was
this teenage prodigy really a one-hit person? I wonder what
happened to him...

Sidharth Jaggi

80 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Frank O'Shea said...

Not at all sugar coated. The message is a valid one and is all the better
for being put into rhyme. Most readers of this site have an interest in
poetry and critical faculties to decide whether a poem is good or not. But,
and this is in no way meant to be patronising, the great majority of
non-poetry lovers will read this and like it because they can understand
what it is saying and appreciate the way it says it. They may not ever
read Pound or Williams (and I don't blame them) but they will read this.
Thanks for putting it up on the site and thanks Sidharth.


Priscilla Jebaraj said...

purely out of curiosity, i tried to trace james patrick kinney. even if
his poem is no piece of genius, it seems to be widely quoted on the net,
but there's very little about the poet.

one website said he had studied at MIT.

he was apparently a member of the class of 1982. he seems to go by his
second name, patrick.

until last year, he was the treasurer of the 1982 class reunion
committee. he was recently a donor to the lewis media library at mit.

if anyone's from mit, you can access the mit alumni info and find out
more. somehow, after searching the net for him, i'm curious to see what
j patrick kinney is doing with his life now.


Highland David said...

Regarding the identity/fate of the poet, the following letter appeared in a
Dear Abby column on October 25, 1999, indicating that he was in his 40s when
he wrote the poem. The letter doesn't indicate if he wrote/published
anything else of note.
DEAR ABBY: My husband, James Patrick Kinney, wrote the poem "The Cold
Within" in the 1960s. It is gratifying to know he left something behind that
others appreciate. He submitted it to the Saturday Evening Post; however, it
was rejected as "too controversial for the times. Jim was active in the
ecumenical movement. His poem was sent in to the Liguorian, a Catholic
magazine. That was its first official publication to my knowledge. Since
then, it has appeared in church bulletins, teaching seminars and on talk
radio, listed as "Author Unknown. If that was done for legal protection, I
understand. My family is always happy to see it appear, but we do think the
true author should be given credit. Jim died at 51 of a heart attack on May
23, 1973, after retiring to Sarasota, Fla. My second marriage was to Homer
Kenny, a Sarasota widower, so I became ... Mrs. James Kinney-Kenny


Ian Baillieu said...

Evidently there has been more than one James Patrick Kinney!

As moralising verse goes, I agree this is better than
average, and the scenario is memorable even if far-fetched.

Yet it does have some blemishes that could easily have been
fixed. Are those due to the amateur authorship, or errors
in the work's reproduction here? In the 1st line of the
3rd verse, 'cross' should surely be 'across', otherwise the
rhythm stumbles. The rhythm misses a beat in the 3rd line
of the 6th verse. Each comma in the 4th and 7th verses
should be a full stop. Finally, what is the point of making
the first human described a woman, when all the others are
men? As a detail it distracts, because it seems arbitrary.
Unnecessary to the allegory, and too asymmetrical to
introduce gender equality.

Reverend Martha Simmons said...

I need to know how to contact Mr. James Patrick Kenney. I want to obtain his permission to use his poem "The Cold Within", in a sermon.

Thank you.

Martha Simmons

Mary Langley said...

The allegory "The Cold Within" is as meaningful today as the day it was written.. If the world could understand the meaning of the allegory and take heed, we could have the peaceful kingdom that God meant for us in the beginning. How apropos the allegory in light of our present conflict. Thank Mrs. James Kinney-Kenny for her information. I am using the poem in my devotional this week. I will give both her and Jammes Kinney credit that they deserve. What a legacy to leave the world and his family.

Equinewoman90 said...

This poem is one of the best I have read.

Kelee said...

A great poem/tool for teaching interlocutors (esp. juvenile delinquents)the benefits of being open minded towards people different from their own kind. I add a spin to it to create dialogue but I would love to know the true story that this poem is based on other than the common one at hand, if there is one.
Thank you Patrick. Javier

Dakatajean6 said...

This is one of the best poems I have ever heard

Penny Hansen said...

I also would like permission to use this poem in a Life Skills book for
Grade 11 learners in South Africa. Where can I get permission? Who holds the

Penny Hansen

Dale Hellman said...

I first became aware of this poem through my work news letter for the Kansas Highway Patrol, in 1988.
It was indicated as a young man in the 8th grade wrote the poem.

This poem is absolutely the most compelling, thought provoking piece of literature ever written. Description of human nature could not have been said better in a novel of a thousand pages.
If we all could see the meaning and change our behavior, then the fire would never go out around the world. Beautiful !

Jennifer Roach said...


Pearson Custom Publishing is interested in gaining permission to use this material in an upcoming publication. Could you please provide me with contact information for the author / rightsholder of this poem?

Thank you,

Anonymous said...

i think this poem has a lot of depth to it.
it makes me think and realize how people can really be,.
its sad but true..
people are so selfish and careless!
but this poem shows how it will get back at them, and thats what i call beautiful "karma".
thwere are many people who are not superstisious, and im not a big one either but karma is something i strongly believe in and always have in my mind when i do anything.
jope it gets you thinking and wanting to better yourself.

Anonymous said...

My 6th grade reading teacher was the first person to show me this poem At first i didnt get it but once she explained it to me it became my favorite poem. It is a kind of depressing poem but I love it:)

Anonymous said...

This is anonymous again, i just sent the one comment above this but I left something out that I wanted to say. After reading this poem I realized that people can be cruel and not care about anybody but themselves. It is really sad if you think about, that someone would rather die than put a stick of wood in fire to save himself and the people around him just because they look or do thinks different that he does. That is just sad. They did die from the cold within.

nnydanger said...

You have to kill yourself and give from selflessness... Then the hate for selfishness fuels a fire of passion for good. And no more sticks are needed.

Anonymous said...

this isnt the real version...
The real one has for the 2nd last paragraph this:

And the last man of this forlorn group
Would do naught for anyone gay.
He watched as one man touched another,
Then threw his stick away.

Funny isnt it... A poem about intolerance and how it is badly affecting our society and this website needs more tolerance to accept the real world, not excluding or removing anyone or anything....It was a good poem

Anonymous said...

Without contacting the real author of this poem, calling one version "true" is futile.

In my opinion, however, the "true" 2nd last verse offered in the post above mine is kind of trite - even more so than the rest of the poem. Plus, given the possible age of the poem, it seems like it was a relatively modern edit - an effort to shoehorn more recent issues into what's otherwise a relatively universal and timeless poem.

Which is not to say that homophobia didn't exist until recently - it's just that the verse it replaces is more general and applicable.

And the use of the word "gay" to refer to homosexuality is terribly prosaic, and really has no place in this poem.

Anonymous said...

I feel left out because I am average. I don't hate anyone because they hate something else. Second-hand hatred is no better than first-hand.

If your cause of the day is more important to you than all the rest, then you are one of the six. May God have mercy on your soul.

Edmos Jubane said...

first read this poem in 'The Plain Truth' magazine 1992- sublime piece of art!

Anonymous said...

I first read this poem shortly after leaving college and becoming a security guard. I would pass by an office cubicle in one of the large buildings in the Carrier Corporation campus located in East Syracuse, NY. This poem was tacked up and I would read it as I passed by the cubicle each night during my rounds. I learned that Mr. Kinney wrote this while going to high school in Indianapolis, IN. I hope to meet him someday.

darlene said...

Priscilla, "even if his poem is no piece of genius" your opinion is respected, but for sure, never the less is his poem one that stirs the conscience and invokes a look into our morality! The "Cold Within" ripples with many levels od the "cold within" which is why it will always be read again and again, Is this not in some way a measure of how even history has repeated itself with the same mistakes over and over. One doesn't need to dig deep History is rich in what our poet denotes on many scales. "To each his own." Which is why so many harken to this poem. Thank you all, and priscilla for the forum to kindly speak our opinion and critique.

darlene said...

IIan, I have a copy of this poem from the Ligorian Magazine my dear grandmother shared with me, aka 6 minstrels, also at the start of the poem it reads "Six men were trappred by happenstance,' therefore I believe an individual added a "woman" to the "fire" understandably so, I do get it! But original is "six men" this was written in the 60's many struggles still going on, especially thru college levels "our new thinkers" this man was critiqued far ago, his original version lives on and the morality he stirs is A+++++ need I say more! The whole point of the poem,! While six men sat pondered the other "they dies from the cold within. So many levels to this poem for so many people to bring light and meaning to

darlene said...

Please pardon some spelling above, having tech trouble with key board thank you

darlene said...

Well said Dale!

darlene said...

I think what you both are hinting at is Precisely what thw poem is meant to do! Evoke a moral issue, gain insight into our own selves, This poem is just that Moral injustice, how we can rob ourselves, of life and love by our ignorance to many areas in our life. It just fits! A one size fits all!

Anonymous said...

My Friend kim post this on our facebook group and I like it! Now it's my favorite! :)

Michael (Misha) Shengaout said...

You may find the proper version of the poem and more materials about James Patrick Kinney at his archive page:

Also, you may read the interview with his son, Timothy Kinney, over here:

You may also want to read the story associated with this poem:

Per Timothy Kinney, the poem is in public domain; however he insists that it is published as the poet intended.


Michael (Misha) Shengaout, Editor in Chief
All Things If magazine

Anonymous said...

Read this in class today! Really like it!

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Anonymous said...

The poem is used at our leadership camp. I write middle verses each time to make it personal for that particular group.

(Insert name) came to Leadership Camp
some meek and others bold
Each one possessed a will to lead
or so the story’s told.

(examples of added verses)
They learned to use a stick of wood
to help them talk the talk
They learned to use the fist-to-five
to help them walk the walk.

Frogs and sharks and Wam-Sam-Sam
Were songs set to be sung
Bunko was the game to play
Who cared who really won.

They learn the tricks of magic
Wizard, Giant, Elf
They danced before the mirror
And looked into them self.

(Then the ending)

The good they did when they returned
was proof of where they’d been,
They didn’t give in to the cold at school,
because they had no cold within.

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