The Cold Within
Six humans trapped by happenstance
In bleak and bitter cold.
Each one possessed a stick of wood
Or so the story’s told
Their dying fire in need of logs,
But the first man held his back.
For of the faces 'round the fire,
He noticed one was black.
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 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 the wealth he had in store,
And how to keep what he had earned
From the lazy, shiftless poor.
And 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 last man of this fallen group did nought,
Except for gain.
Giving only to those who gave,
Was how he played the game.
Their logs held tight in death's still hands
Was proof of human sin.
They did not die from the cold without,
They died from the cold within.
"The Cold Within" was written in the 1960s by an American poet known as James Patrick Kinney. It has appeared in countless church bulletins, web sites and teaching seminars, as well as magazines and newspapers, including Dear Abby’s column on 5 September 1999. His other popular works are A Better world, A poem, A Glimpse of Pioneer ways and Gone Camping (Eulogy to Johny). According to the poet's widow, he submitted the poem first to the Saturday Evening Post, but it was rejected as it was "too controversial for the time". Kinney sent it later to Liguorian, a Catholic magazine, which was the first commercial publication to print it.
According to Timothy Kinney, the poet's son ,the poem was originally 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 after the council meeting of all religions.