Given the prevalent symbolism of fire across centuries of story-telling, page 30 of Room to Write asks us to share “a personal story, memory, or belief about fire.” Or, we can conduct a freewriting beginning with the word “fire” and let it spread from there.
FIRE. It takes life and sustains life. It guides our sight through darkness or blinds us to what else we might find in shadow, revealing and concealing. It illuminates our romance and dances upon the page. Fire attracts the moth and repels the mosquito; it swallows the air and laps up the tinder that shelters us, spiriting it away in climbing smoke, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. It licks our bones clean and sterilizes the needle, preens the prairie grasses and purifies the water. It casts menace upon our faces when lighting us from beneath, yet shrouds in angelic glow when lighting us from behind. Fire converts raw food into nourishment for our bodies, or consumes nourishment for our souls into raw emotion. It is an exclamation that will clear a room within seconds or signal a gathering to share stories round its warmth. It thaws, it soothes, it burns, it chars; it can fuel our hope or ignite our dread. It can whisper to us in crackles and snaps, promising safety and comfort in a cold, barren landscape, or it can hiss at us like wind against our eardrums or a stampede rumbling down the hillside to crush us. Fire is an element embracing our passions, sweeping exponentially in our lust or our anger until it sizzles into dowsing foam or, when there’s nothing more upon which it can feed, coughs its smoldering death rattle as glowing cinders close their eyes on a bed of black.
Ah, this prompt brought me back to my teaching days, when fire was so often imagery to analyze—I’ve actually used this exact same activity in class so that students could reflect on what connotations fire held for them. And, as I can see above, I personally muse over the dualities of fire in all its functions and figurative implications.
This dichotomy is evident in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, in which fire goes from being a symbol of a romantic love to that of recklessness:
“O! she doth teach the torches to burn bright.” – Romeo commenting on Juliet’s beauty
“These violent delights have violent ends
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,
Which as they kiss consume.” – The Friar commenting on R&J’s impetuous actions
“Smoke was rising here and there among the creepers that festooned the dead or dying trees. As they watched, a flash of fire appeared at the root of one wisp, and then the smoke thickened. Small flames stirred at the trunk of a tree and crawled away through leaves and brushwood, dividing and increasing. One patch touched a tree trunk and scrambled up like a bright squirrel. The smoke increased, sifted, rolled outwards. The squirrel leapt on the wings of the wind and clung to another standing tree, eating downwards. Beneath the dark canopy of leaves and smoke the fire laid hold on the forest and began to gnaw. Acres of black and yellow smoke rolled steadily toward the sea. At the sight of the flames and the irresistible course of the fire, the boys broke into shrill, excited cheering. The flames, as though they were a kind of wild life, crept as a jaguar creeps on its belly toward a line of birch-like saplings that fledged an outcrop of the pink rock. They flapped at the first of the trees, and the branches grew a brief foliage of fire. The heart of flame leapt nimbly across the gap between the trees and then went swinging and flaring along the whole row of them. Beneath the capering boys a quarter of a mile square of forest was savage with smoke and flame. The separate noises of the fire merged into a drum-roll that seemed to shake the mountain.”