All posts by Rounak Barman

Not your average cup of Joe☕

No Men Are Foreign

Remember, no men are strange, no countries foreign
Beneath all uniforms, a single body breathes
Like ours: the land our brothers walk upon
Is earth like this, in which we all shall lie.
They, too, aware of sun and air and water,
Are fed by peaceful harvests, by war’s long winter starv’d.

James Kirrup starts off his poem by advising the readers to remember that no men are strange for we are all one. No matter what our skin colour, no countries are foreign for we are all inhabitants of the planet. Beneath all uniforms, all dress, we are a single body that breathes equally the same. All of us from all the countries walk on the land of the same planet and in the same land where we shall be laid to rest once we die. The people from other countries are aware of the Sun, air and water just like us. We are all fed by peaceful harvests and all of us starve due to wars which are like a long winter with no food.

Their hands are ours, and in their lines we read
A labour not different from our own.
Remember they have eyes like ours that wake
Or sleep, and strength that can be won
By love. In every land is common life
That all can recognise and understand.

The poet says that all of our hands, even those in different countries have hands like ours. They also work like us to earn their bread. Their labour and work are not that different from ours. They have eyes like ours that wake up and sleep just like we do. They have the strength that can be won and conquered by love. Every land has a common life that people from any corner of the Earth can recognise and understand.

Let us remember, whenever we are told
To hate our brothers, it is ourselves
That we shall dispossess, betray, condemn.
Remember, we who take arms against each other

The poet asks us to remember that whenever we are told to hate our brothers from different lands, it is ourselves we shall dispossess for we are all members of the big family that is planet Earth. We will betray and condemn ourselves if we take up arms against each other. The poet asks us to stay in harmony and peace so that we can all prosper together.

It is the human earth that we defile.
Our hells of fire and dust outrage the innocence
Of air that is everywhere our own,
Remember, no men are foreign, and no countries strange.

The poet makes us aware that it is our own Earth that we defile and destroy when we wage wars. When we fight against other countries, the destruction caused by our weapons rage hell on Earth and kill the innocent. It destroys the air of our Earth that is our own. We must remember that we are all the same in the end and all the countries are members of the same family of the planet Earth. Thus we must live in peace and prosper together.


The Ballad Of Father Gilligan

The old priest Peter Gilligan
Was weary night and day
For half his flock were in their beds
Or under green sods lay.
Once, while he nodded in a chair
At the moth-hour of the eve
Another poor man sent for him,
And he began to grieve.

William Butler Yeats talks about an old priest who was extremely tired all day and night. Half of his flock was dead and he was depressed. One day while he was nodding in a chair another poor man sent for him as he was about to die and needed the priest’s blessings. Having being extremely tired and not getting a chance to rest, he began to weep out of frustration. God’s work was tiring and starting to take a toll on his humanly old body.

‘I have no rest, nor joy, nor peace,
For people die and die;
And after cried he, ‘God forgive!
My body spake not I!’
He knelt, and leaning on the chair
He prayed and fell asleep;
And the moth-hour went from the fields,
And stars began to peep.

He cried that he got no chance to rest and had no joy or peace in his life for people only died. He only had so much work to do and got no time for relaxation. He cried to God to forgive him and that his body was speaking and not him. He meant that although he wanted to do God’s work, his ageing body was failing to keep up. He knelt and leaning on the chair He prayed and fell asleep. The night came and so did the stars but Father Gilligan kept sleeping unaware.

They slowly into millions grew,
And leaves shook in the wind
And God covered the world with shade
And whispered to mankind.
Upon the time of sparrow chirp
When the moths came once more,
The old priest Peter Gilligan
Stood upright on the floor.

The stars filled the sky and the leaves shook in the wind. God covered the world with shade and whispered to mankind. During the time of sparrow chirps, the moths came once more, the old priest Peter Gilligan awoke on the floor. He had slept throughout the night.

‘Mavrone, mavrone! The man has died
While I slept in the chair.’
He roused his horse out of its sleep
And rode with little care.
He rode now as he never rode,
By rocky lane and fen;
The sick man’s wife opened the door,
‘Father! you come again!’

The priest expressed his grief by crying mavrone for he knew that man had died while he had slept in the chair. He woke up his horse from its sleep and rode in a rash manner by rocky lanes and fen. He reached the sick man’s home and the wife opened the door and exclaimed her surprise on seeing him again.

‘And is the poor man dead?’ he cried
‘He died an hour ago.’
The old priest Peter Gilligan
In grief swayed to and fro.
‘When you were gone, he turned and died,
As merry as a bird.’
The old priest Peter Gilligan
He knelt him at that word.

Father Gillian cried in desperation and asked if the man had died. The wife affirmed that her husband had indeed died an hour ago. Remorse and grief gripped Father Gillian. The wife said that when father Gilligan had gone, he had died as merry as a bird. The priest knelt and realised what had happened.

‘He Who hath made the night of stars
For souls who tire and bleed,
Sent one of this great angels down,
To help me in my need.
‘He Who is wrapped in purple robes,
With planets in His care
Had pity on the least of things
Asleep upon a chair.’

The Priest cried and understood that God who had made the starry night skies for souls who are tired and bleed had given him rest. God had sent one of his angels to help the Priest get his much-needed rest by doing his work. God had taken pity on him and had his work done by sending an Angel to emulate him and bless and take care of the sick and dying man.

Night Of The Scorpion

I remember the night my mother
was stung by a scorpion. Ten hours
of steady rain had driven him
to crawl beneath a sack of rice.
Parting with his poison – flash
of diabolic tail in the dark room –
he risked the rain again.

The speaker starts off by telling that he remembers the night his mother was stung by a scorpion. Continuous rain for 10 hours had driven him to crawl and hide behind a sack of rice. The scorpion stung the speaker’s mother with its tail in the darkroom and went out in the rain again.

The peasants came like swarms of flies
and buzzed the name of God a hundred times
to paralyse the Evil One.
With candles and with lanterns
throwing giant scorpion shadows
on the mud-baked walls
they searched for him: he was not found.
They clicked their tongues.
With every movement that the scorpion made his poison moved in Mother’s blood, they said.

The poet then points out that a lot of peasants hearing the victim’s wails came swarming like flies. They started chanting the name of God a hundred times to paralyse the scorpion. They searched for the scorpion with candles and with lanterns everywhere. Yet they couldn’t find the scorpion. They said that with every movement the scorpion made, the poison moved inside the speaker’s mother’s blood. The ancient rural superstition is quite evident from the lines.

May he sit still, they said
May the sins of your previous birth
be burned away tonight, they said.
May your suffering decrease
the misfortunes of your next birth, they said.
May the sum of all evil
balanced in this unreal world
against the sum of good
become diminished by your pain.
May the poison purify your flesh
of desire, and your spirit of ambition,
they said, and they sat around
on the floor with my mother in the centre,
the peace of understanding on each face.

They prayed that may the scorpion sit still at someplace. They wished that the mother’s sins of her previous birth be purified by her suffering. They hoped that her suffering may decrease in her next birth due to her ordeal in this birth. They wished that may all the evil in this world decrease in the world as a result of her pain and may her flesh be purified of desire and the spirit of ambition by the poison. They surrounded his mother on the floor with her in the centre with the peace of understanding on each face.

More candles, more lanterns, more neighbours,
more insects, and the endless rain.
My mother twisted through and through,
groaning on a mat.
My father, sceptic, rationalist,
trying every curse and blessing,
powder, mixture, herb and hybrid.
He even poured a little paraffin
upon the bitten toe and put a match to it.
I watched the flame feeding on my mother.
I watched the holy man perform his rites to tame the poison with an incantation.
After twenty hours
it lost its sting.
My mother only said
Thank God the scorpion picked on me
And spared my children.

More people came with candles and lanterns. There was more neighbours, more insects and endless rain. The speaker’s mother twisted with pain, groaning on the mat. His father who was a sceptic, rationalist being helpless tried every blessing and cure, powder, mixture, herb and hybrid to try to cure her. He poured even paraffin on the bitten toe and set it on fire. The poet saw the flame feeding his mother. Like funeral rites, he saw his father as a holy man trying to tame the poison with incantations. After twenty hours the poison lost its sting. The poet’s mother breathed a sigh of relief and said she was glad that the scorpion spared her children and bit her instead.

A River

In Madurai,
city of temples and poets,
who sang of cities and temples,
every summer
a river dries to a trickle
in the sand,
baring the sand ribs,
straw and women’s hair
clogging the watergates
at the rusty bars
under the bridges with patches
of repair all over them
the wet stones glistening like sleepy
crocodiles, the dry ones
shaven water-buffaloes lounging in the sun
The poets only sang of the floods.

A.K.Ramanujan takes a jibe at poets of Madurai or those poets who visited Madurai and were limited in their thinking and imaginative capacity. The poet starts off by saying Madurai is a city of temples and poets who sang only of cities and temples. The poets missed the river which dried to a trickle in the sand and bare sand ribs, straw and women’s hair. These clogged the watergates at the rusty bars under the bridges with patches of repair marks all over them.  The poet uses two metaphors to describe the wet stones like sleepy crocodiles and the dry ones like shaven water buffaloes lounging in the Sun. Yet all the poets sang only of floods missing out on so many details.

He was there for a day
when they had the floods.
People everywhere talked
of the inches rising,
of the precise number of cobbled steps
run over by the water, rising
on the bathing places,
and the way it carried off three village houses,
one pregnant woman
and a couple of cows
named Gopi and Brinda as usual.

The poet was there for just a day and noticed so many things that all poets generally miss out on. He was there the day the floods took place and people everywhere only spoke of the rising flood and the precise number of cobbled steps run over by water. The water rose to the bathing places and disaster struck. The flood carried off three village houses, one pregnant woman, a couple of cows named Gopi and Brinda as usual. The use of the phrase, “as usual” suggests that it was a regular and helpless occurrence for the people.

The new poets still quoted
the old poets, but no one spoke
in verse
of the pregnant woman
drowned, with perhaps twins in her,
kicking at blank walls
even before birth.

The poet says that the new poets still quoted what the old poets had said but everyone failed to express or talk about the pregnant woman who had drowned and maybe with twins still inside her, kicking at blank walls. The cruel reality is vividly painted by the poet in the description of the unborn babies still kicking their mother’s walls while she had drowned.

He said:
the river has water enough
to be poetic
about only once a year
and then
it carries away
in the first half-hour
three village houses,
a couple of cows
named Gopi and Brinda
and one pregnant woman
expecting identical twins
with no moles on their bodies,
with different coloured diapers
to tell them apart.

The poet says ironically and sarcastically taking a dig at the other poets that the water has enough water to be poetic just once a year when the flood occurs. In the first hour of the flood itself, tragedy strikes when every year a couple of cows, a pregnant woman expecting twins died. The poet imagines the unborn twins to be so identical that they have no moles on their bodies to tell them apart and only different coloured diapers tell one from the other. Here the drowned cows, pregnant woman are symbolic of the lives lost to the fury of nature which is often ignored by other poets who glorify and talk only about the flood.

No Time

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

W.H.Davies’s poem “Leisure” is a very important poem that talks about the pertinent issue of lack of time the common man has in this fast-paced world. The world where anyone barely gets any time to sit back and cherish nature and the beauty the world has to offer. The poet asks what is this life where we don’t have any time to stand and observe. Observe anything the world has to offer to delight our visual senses.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

The poet says that we don’t have any time to stand beneath boughs and be lazy and just stare about blankly as sheep and cows do. This is to indicate that we don’t have any free time to about idly as cattle do.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

We don’t have any time to observe the woods that we pass. The woods where squirrels hide their nuts in the grass. The poet says that we fail to enjoy the little but important things in life. The things that nature has presented us to cherish and bask in.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

The poet says that we have no time to see in broad daylight the streams that are on offer that glisten and twinkle like stars at night. The poet points out the bountiful nature that we fail to cherish.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

We don’t have any time to turn and look at beautiful things in life and the gracefulness that they possess. This could range from flowers swaying to the breeze to beautiful maidens dancing to a song.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

Alas! The poet laments that we have no time to watch a beautiful smile. A pretty smile should be cherished but we fail to do so when we are running helter-skelter, hustling to stay in the race with the rest of the world.

A poor life this is if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

The poet says that it is indeed a poor life, full of care because we barely have any time to cherish the nature gifted to mankind. The poet hints to us that we should take time to cherish the small things in life that often go unnoticed and we miss out on the wondrous creation of God. Although hustling and our daily busy lives are important, we should take out some to cherish nature in its true magnificence. A pretty dance or a beautiful smile is fulfilling to our eyes and should be appreciated for its true worth instead of being ignored or missed. The poet admits the paucity of time Man has yet he tells us of the various wonderful things we would be missing out on.

Evolution Of Killing

There are many cumbersome ways to kill a man.
You can make him carry a plank of wood
to the top of a hill and nail him to it.
To do this properly you require a crowd of people
wearing sandals, a cock that crows, a cloak
to dissect, a sponge, some vinegar and one
man to hammer the nails home.

The poet Wilfred Owen sarcastically talks of the various ways to kill a human being. He starts off by talking about the crucifixion of Christ who was betrayed by Judas, tortured and made to carry his own cross. Brutal crucifixion is one of the ways to end the life of a human being that the poet talks about.

Or you can take a length of steel,
shaped and chased in a traditional way,
and attempt to pierce the metal cage he wears.
But for this you need white horses,
English trees, men with bows and arrows,
at least two flags, a prince, and a
castle to hold your banquet in.

The poet talks of the War of Roses in the second stanza which was fought from 1455 to 1487 between the two houses of Lancaster and York for the throne of England. Here knights attacked the other in the traditional way with white horses with English trees, men with bows and arrows and a banquet where the winning side would hold the festivities. This manner of killing is swifter than the crucifixion of Jesus yet the sarcastic manner of Brock rings with irony throughout the lines of his poem.

Dispensing with nobility, you may, if the wind
allows, blow gas at him. But then you need
a mile of mud sliced through with ditches,
not to mention black boots, bomb craters,
more mud, a plague of rats, a dozen songs
and some round hats made of steel.

Brock in the third stanza tells us that we don’t need nobilities to kill other human beings for if the wind is favourable we can blow gas at the enemy. This refers to the world war 1 which was a gas and trench warfare with mud laced boots, bomb craters, a plague of rats and war songs pushing the men ahead with zeal and vigour.

In an age of aeroplanes, you may fly
miles above your victim and dispose of him by pressing one small switch. All you then
require is an ocean to separate you, two
systems of government, a nation’s scientists,
several factories, a psychopath and
land that no-one needs for several years.

Now the poet talks of the World War 2 where aeroplanes were used to dump and destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atom bombs. One needed to just press a small switch to completely decimate and destroy the two cities of Japan. One just needed an ocean to separate the two countries with two different systems of government, nation’s scientists, several factories for the production of the mass weapons and a psychopath possibly referring to Henry S Truman who ordered the bombing on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  One also needs land that no one would use for several years as the atom bomb radiation would render the land useless.

These are, as I began, cumbersome ways to kill a man.
Simpler, direct, and much more neat is to see
that he is living somewhere in the middle
of the twentieth century, and leave him there.

The final stanza states that the above-mentioned ways to kill humans were cumbersome and a more simple, direct and neat way to kill humans was to leave the man somewhere in the middle of the twentieth century and leave him there and he would perish due to the harsh circumstances of the century and would be a victim of time.

This poem has a hidden moral message which states that humans should aim at coexisting peacefully and without mindless violence.

The Arduous Journey

It started as a pilgrimage
Exalting minds and making all
The burdens light, The second stage
Explored but did not test the call.
The sun beat down to match our rage.

The poet begins by stating that their journey started as a pilgrimage with their minds exalting and their minds forgetting every worry in the world.  The second stage of the journey proved to be a little testing but could not match their enthusiasm while the sun beat down on them. The sun signifies the obstacles that started coming across their way.

We stood it very well, I thought,
Observed and put down copious notes
On things the peasants sold and bought
The way of serpents and of goats.
Three cities where a sage had taught

The poet thought they endured the sun very well which means that they successfully overcame the wrath of the Sun. The poet observed things and put down a lot of notes on things the peasants sold and bought and the way of serpents and goats. He also wrote about the three cities where a sage had taught.

But when the differences arose
On how to cross a desert patch,
We lost a friend whose stylish prose
Was quite the best of all our batch.
A shadow falls on us and grows.

However, differences arose amongst the group on how to deal with a problem indicated by how they would cross a desert patch. They lost a friend whose manner of writing was the best of their batch. Problems begin to arise in their group and a shadow starts falling on them and it keeps growing.

Another phase was reached when we
Were twice attacked, and lost our way.
A section claimed its liberty
To leave the group. I tried to pray.
Our leader said he smelt the sea.

The journey becomes riddled with difficulties evident in the manner in which they were attacked twice and they lost their way. A section of the group claimed its liberty to leave the group. The poet starts praying and the leader said that he could smell the sea.

We noticed nothing as we went,
A straggling crowd of little hope,
Ignoring what the thunder meant,
Deprived of common needs like soap.
Some were broken, some merely bent.

They noticed nothing as they went which paints an eerie disturbing picture. They were like a straggling crowd with little hope, ignoring the thunder and deprived of common necessities like soap. Some of them broken and some merely bent with exhaustion.

When, finally, we reached the place ,
We hardly know why we were there.
The trip had darkened every face,
Our deeds were neither great nor rare.
Home is where we have to gather grace.

When they finally reached the place they hardly knew why they were there. The trip had taken a toll on every one of them. Their deeds were neither great nor rare. Home is where they would have to find grace and salvation.

This entire poem could be read as the struggle of India’s Independence and the section which claimed its liberty could signify Pakistan which separated from India.

A Lily In Bloom

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:—

Leigh Hunt talks about Abou Ben Adhem and shows how love and compassion for fellow human beings is a greater and quicker way to be in the grace of God. Leigh starts off by talking of Abou Ben Adhem who awoke from his peaceful sleep one night. Abou saw within the moonlight entering his room which was making his room rich and like a lily flower blooming he saw an Angel who was writing in a book of gold.

Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the room, he said,
“What writest thou?”—The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered, “The names of those who love the Lord.”

The poem continues with Abou reacting in a calm and bold manner. Under normal circumstances, any individual would have been startled but not Abou. Being religious and peaceful, he wasn’t afraid of the Angel. Instead, he questioned the Angel as to what the Angel was writing in the book made of gold. The Angel raised its head and answered to him that the Angel was writing all the names of those who love God.

“And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,”
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerly still; and said, “I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow men.”

Abou, curious, asked the Angel if his name was on the list. The Angel replied that Abou’s name wasn’t on the list. Although Abou was disheartened yet he wasn’t sad and in a jovial voice, he then asked the Angel to write his name as one of those who loved his fellow men.

The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blest,
And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.

The Angel wrote his name as one who loved his fellow men and vanished. The next night the angel again appeared and awakened him and showed him the names of those who had received the love and blessings of God. The poet then exclaims and says Ben Adhem’s name was on top of the list ahead of everyone.

The moral of this parable is we should love our fellow human beings and that is the quickest way to earn the blessings of God. No religious rituals or prayers can earn us a quicker way to be in the grace of God than to love and be compassionate to our fellow human beings. This also follows several religious notions that God resides everywhere from nature to humans. To love humans is to love God, to cherish nature is to cherish God.  In this manner, we can find God everywhere around us and only love and compassion can make us earn the grace and blessings of God.

The True Price Of The Medals

John Brown went off to war to fight on a foreign shore
His mama sure was proud of him!
He stood straight and tall in his uniform and all
His mama’s face broke out all in a grin

Bob Dylan begins off by saying that John set out to fight on a foreign shore and his mother was very proud of her son as she thought taking part in the war was of glorious essence. John stood straight and proud in his uniform and his mother couldn’t help but smile.

“Oh son, you look so fine, I’m glad you’re a son of mine
You make me proud to know you hold a gun
Do what the captain says, lots of medals you will get
And we’ll put them on the wall when you come home”

She exclaimed to her son that he looked fine and she was glad to have given birth to him. Her blatant glorification of war is evident in the statement that he made her proud by holding a gun which she considered to be a virtue. She advises him to listen and do whatever the captain tells him to do and he would surely win a lot of medals and then they would the medals on the wall when he would return from the war.

As that old train pulled out, John’s ma began to shout
Tellin’ ev’ryone in the neighborhood:
“That’s my son that’s about to go, he’s a soldier now, you know”
She made well sure her neighbors understood

As the train began to leave, John’s mother began to shout proudly, telling everyone in the neighborhood that it was her son that was about to go in the train and the fact that he was now a soldier. She made the declaration emphatically so as to ensure everyone truly understood the importance of her son being a soldier.  The mindless glorification of going into battle is foolhardy which is subtly implied by Bob Dylan.

She got a letter once in a while and her face broke into a smile
As she showed them to the people from next door
And she bragged about her son with his uniform and gun
And these things you called a good old-fashioned war

She got a letter once in a while and that used to make her smile. She used to go about bragging about her son in the soldier’s uniform.

Oh! Good old-fashioned war!

Then the letters ceased to come, for a long time they did not come
They ceased to come for about ten months or more
Then a letter finally came saying, “Go down and meet the train
Your son’s a-coming home from the war”

Then the true picture of war is shown when the letters from John ceases to arrive for a long time. They had stopped coming for more than ten months and then finally one day a letter came telling her to go down to the train station for her son was coming back home from the war.

She smiled and went right down, she looked everywhere around
But she could not see her soldier son in sight
But as all the people passed, she saw her son at last
When she did she could hardly believe her eyes

She smiled and went to the station and looked everywhere but she couldn’t see her son anywhere and finally after all the people had passed she saw her son at last and she could hardly believe her eyes.

Oh his face was all shot up and his hand was all blown off
And he wore a metal brace around his waist
He whispered kind of slow, in a voice she did not know
While she couldn’t even recognize his face!

John Brown was a picture of pity and his face was all messed up and his hand been blown off and he wore a metal brace around his waist. He whispered slowly in a voice that her mother had never heard before and she couldn’t recognize his face.

Oh! Lord! Not even recognize his face

“Oh tell me, my darling son, pray tell me what they done
How is it you come to be this way?”
He tried his best to talk but his mouth could hardly move
And the mother had to turn her face away

Her mother cried and asked her son to tell her how he came to be in such a horrible condition. However John Brown tried his best yet he could barely speak and his mother turned her face away unable to bear the condition of her son.

“Don’t you remember, Ma, when I went off to war
You thought it was the best thing I could do?
I was on the battleground, you were home . . . acting proud
You wasn’t there standing in my shoes”

John Brown breaks his mother’s perception of war by stating the obvious. He mocks her by stating that she had thought that his going to war was the best thing he could do. He fought in the battlefield while she was home feeling proud. Yet she didn’t know what he was going through for she wasn’t standing in his shoes.

“Oh, and I thought when I was there, God, what am I doing here?
I’m a-tryin’ to kill somebody or die tryin’
But the thing that scared me most was when my enemy came close
And I saw that his face looked just like mine”

John Brown tells her that he wondered as to why he had gone to the battlefield while he was in the midst of the battle. He knew that he had to kill or be killed and the thing that scared him the most was the fact that his enemy looked just like him, human!

Oh! Lord! Just like mine!

“And I couldn’t help but think, through the thunder rolling and stink
That I was just a puppet in a play
And through the roar and smoke, this string is finally broke
And a cannonball blew my eyes away”

He knew through the mud and thunder that he was just a puppet amidst all of this. Then the inevitable happened when a cannonball was fired and he was physically handicapped.

As he turned away to walk, his Ma was still in shock
At seein’ the metal brace that helped him stand
But as he turned to go, he called his mother close
And he dropped his medals down into her hand

As he turned to walk away, his mother was in shock seeing the metal brace that was helping him stand. As he turned to go, he called his mother and put down the medals into her hand that she had once glorified not knowing the price one had to pay to earn them.

Nope, I would rather die instead!

Six humans trapped by happenstance
In bleak and bitter cold.
Each one possessed a stick of wood
Or so the story’s told.

The poet begins by recounting that six people were trapped in a place by chance amidst very bitter cold weather. Each of those six people had a stick of wood according to everyone retelling the story.

Their dying fire in need of logs
The first man held his back
For of the faces round the fire
He noticed one was black.

They were trapped in the bitter cold and the fire that was keeping them warm was dying and it needed wood to keep burning.  However, the story takes a selfish turn when the first man kept back his log and didn’t add it to the dying fire for he had checked each of the remaining five strangers and noticed that one of them was black. This was subtle racism at play. He didn’t want a black man to be kept warm with his log of wood.

The next man looking ‘cross the way
Saw one not of his church
And couldn’t bring himself to give
The fire his stick of birch.

The next person saw a guy in the group who was not of his church and he thus couldn’t bring himself to add the log of wood to the fire. This shows religious intolerance on the part of the man.

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 third man who was wearing tattered clothes pulled his coat closer to his body to keep himself warm. He being poor didn’t want to give his log of wood to the fire as he didn’t want the rich to be benefited from his action. The class indifference looms large.

The rich man just sat back and thought
Of the wealth he had in store
And how to keep what he had earned
From the lazy shiftless poor.

The rich man just sat and thought of the wealth he had amassed and how to keep his wealth from falling into the hands of the poor lazy poor. The animosity towards poor people is evident in his action.

The black man’s face bespoke revenge
As the fire passed from his sight.
For all he saw in his stick of wood
Was a chance to spite the white.

The black man wanted revenge and he finally realised the opportunity to get back at the white people for mistreating him.  He kept back his stick of wood to himself too.

The last man of this forlorn group
Did nought except for gain.
Giving only to those who gave
Was how he played the game.

The final man of this sad group never did anything for free and he contributed only when others did. Thus seeing nobody giving their stick of wood to feed the fire, he kept his stick of wood to himself too.

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.

The final stanza paints a grim picture of all the six people frozen to death whilst still selfishly holding their log of wood. The poet says that nature’s cold and harsh weather didn’t kill them but the coldness of their heart and nature brought about their premature death.