Exploring Poetry – Night Fire

This page was first published on the 16th of May, 2016 and last updated on the 16th of May, 2016 by Patrick Carpen.

Tags: English for CXC, Poetry for CXC, English Literature, English Comprehension.

Night Fire – by Patrick Carpen

I watched a fire one night
Slowly creep against the wind.
Its hungry tongue of heat and light
Grabbed a dry tree limb.

A crackle here and there,
And a faint roar met my ears;
Entwining in the restless air.
Until the ground was bare.

Have you ever witnessed a fire in a natural environment some time in the night? Try to remember the emotions it brought to your mind. Perhaps you felt inspired by the power of nature; perhaps you felt peaceful by the scenery created; or perhaps you were impressed by nature at work. Or just maybe, a combination of all these emotions rose to your mind.

In this poem, the poet observes a fire “creeping against the wind”. Can a fire really creep? Why not? In this case, it did! However, it is not very practical to say that a fire “crept” because the word “creep” itself implies a thought-process. Normally, people and animals would creep to avoid being caught in dangerous situations. A baby would creep because it can’t walk as yet. A cat might “creep” up to its prey slowly just before springing on it.

Aside from not having limbs, a fire does not have a brain or a thought-process. However, the poet injects a thought process into the fire through figurative language. He compares the fire to something that has intelligence and a thought-process. He makes it appear as though the fire could think and direct its own movement. This is an example of a metaphor.

Take a minute to read the poem again….

I watched a fire one night
Slowly creep against the wind.
Its hungry tongue of heat and light
Grabbed a dry tree limb.

A crackle here and there,
And a faint roar met my ears;
Entwining in the restless air.
Until the ground was bare.

Using a literary device, the metaphor, the poet gives the flame of a fire the qualities of a living creature. This literary device helps to describe the movement of the fire and make it more understandable in the mind of the reader. By saying that the fire “crept”, the writer evokes the images of very slow movement, perhaps pausing from time to time, and staying very low to the ground.

Can you imagine the two elements of nature – the fire and the wind – wrestling against each other? Try to imagine the wind pushing the fire “windward” and the fire, through the ever-abounding laws of chemistry, eating at the dry limb and making its way “upwind”.

Take a minute to read the poem again….

I watched a fire one night
Slowly creep against the wind.
Its hungry tongue of heat and light
Grabbed a dry tree limb.

A crackle here and there,
And a faint roar met my ears;
Entwining in the restless air.
Until the ground was bare.

In line three of the poem, the poet speaks of the fire’s hungry tongue. Does the fire really have a tongue? And is the fire really hungry? We know that a fire has neither a tongue nor a digestive system, so it is not possible that the fire was really hungry.

This is another example of the literary device, the metaphor, where one thing is compared to an entirely different thing. In this case, the fire, an element of nature, is compared to a living creature with a digestive system to culminate hunger, a nervous system to relay the message of hunger, and a brain to receive the message of hunger.

Using the expression “hungry tongue” to describe the fire, the poet paints an absolutely clear picture in the mind of reader. He depicts the ease and speed at which the fire burns the dry materials it comes in contact with or catches hold of and the tongue-like shape of the flames in some instances. The expression “hungry tongue” may also imply the dryness or combustibility of the matter being burnt.

I watched a fire one night
Slowly creep against the wind.
Its hungry tongue of heat and light
Grabbed a dry tree limb.

A crackle here and there,
And a faint roar met my ears;
Entwining in the restless air.
Until the ground was bare.

Question:

Does it appear, after reading the poem, that the writer was observing a really big fire that lasted the entire night, or a small fire that lasted only a few minutes? Give evidence from the poem to support your answer.

Answer:

Based on the poem, it is most likely that the fire described in the poem is a small one that lasted only a few minutes, or at most, less than an hour. Evidence from the poem is as follows:

A crackle…met my ear…until the ground was bare.

The last line of the second stanza (…until the ground was bare.) suggests that the poet stood there until the end of the fire, and that all the material was completely burnt. It is very unlikely that this could have happened in the case of a really big fire that lasted all night.

I watched a fire one night
Slowly creep against the wind.
Its hungry tongue of heat and light
Grabbed a dry tree limb.

A crackle here and there,
And a faint roar met my ears;
Entwining in the restless air.
Until the ground was bare.

In line 7 of the poem, the writer describes the air as “restless”. What factors could have contributed to the restlessness of the air? Try to think along the lines of the noise of the wind, the noise of moving trees and branches, the sound of insects, etc.

In the setting of the poem, the naturally noisy nighttime atmosphere was a source of noise, but there was a second element: the faint roar of the burning fire and the cracking of dry limbs as they broke under the action of the heat.

The verb “to entwine” means to wrap (something) closely with another, in a tangled manner. To express how the noises created by the two elements (the natural nighttime atmosphere and the fire) mixed closely with each other and were of similar frequencies, the poet says that the noise produced by the fire entwined with the noise of the air.

I watched a fire one night
Slowly creep against the wind.
Its hungry tongue of heat and light
Grabbed a dry tree limb.

A crackle here and there,
And a faint roar met my ears;
Entwining in the restless air.
Until the ground was bare.

A metaphor is a literary device which compares one thing to another directly. Whereas a simile says that one thing is like or as another thing, a metaphor says that one thing is another thing.

An expression such as “the curtain of night” might be used in order to emphasize the darkness that night brings by comparing it with a curtain. Just as a curtain drawn across the window of a room may block out the rays of the sun’s light, the night by its very mechanics does the same thing.

In some poems, the writer uses a metaphor to paint a more outstanding effect of the images being described. For example, in the poem above, he starts out by saying that the fire crept. But he doesn’t stop there. The writer consistently gives qualities of a living creature to the fire throughout the entire poem. When this happens, the poem becomes an extended metaphor.

I watched a fire one night
Slowly creep against the wind.
Its hungry tongue of heat and light
Grabbed a dry tree limb.

A crackle here and there,
And a faint roar met my ears;
Entwining in the restless air.
Until the ground was bare.

An extended metaphor is a metaphor in which one thing is compared to another thing throughout an entire poem. In the poem above, the poet uses an extended metaphor to compare a fire to a living creature. What kind of creature is it most likely to be? Let’s look for clues in the poem to help us figure out this answer.

In line two of the poem, the poet says the fire “crept” with a “hungry tongue” and then “grabbed” a dry limb. In the second stanza, he speaks of a faint “roar”. Very often, a lion would creep up to a distant prey to avoid being noticed, just before springing on it. Lions also roar. Given these similarities, it is acceptable to say that the poet was comparing the fire to a lion.

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