Another Night in the Ruins Essay - Critical Essays

Galway Kinnell


Carol Ullmann

Carol Ullmann

Ullmann is a freelance writer and editor. In the following essay, she discusses the relationship between creativity and spirituality in Kinnell’s poem “Another Night in the Ruins.”

“Another Night in the Ruins,” by Galway Kinnell, examines a writer’s struggle with creativity, and the perils and assurances inherent in the creative process. The narrator of the poem is a writer who, like Kinnell, draws inspiration from the natural world and seems driven to distraction by his own naturalist spirituality. In section 6, he watches a rooster find a grain—the inspired thought—and “rips / it into / flames. Flaps. Crows. / Flames / bursting out of his brow.” Even before this direct illustration of inspiration is presented, the narrator is concerned with the nighttime hilly landscape and birds, both real and figurative. One bird he watches flying through the twilight. Another is part of himself, a tattered bird with “ink-spattered feathers.” The final bird of the poem is the phoenix, mentioned indirectly in the last section. A phoenix is a mythical bird that dies a fiery death and then rises, reborn, from its own ashes.

The central conflict of this poem is in the narrator as he comes to grips with what he must do to grow as a creative individual.

Fire imagery is an important component of Kinnell’s poem. This fire is not a fire of permanent destruction but one of creation and change. What the narrator struggles to understand over the course of the poem is that, like the real thing, his symbolic fire, and its resulting creations, are not controllable by man although fire is a tool of creation. In classical mythology, fire was a divine gift that man was given. The narrator comes to realize that he must give himself up wholly to the flames of his creativity for it to be fully unleashed and thrive. Through this magnificent process, he is lifted from depression and the ruins of old projects and previous failed attempts fall aside. Thus he can be born anew to new ventures, new productivity.

Kinnell also alludes to spiritual and religious symbolism throughout “Another Night in the Ruins.” Flames bursting from the brow of the rooster is not only indicative of the catalytic moment of inspiration but also of the spiritual phenomenon known as fire in the head. Fire in the head refers to being touched by a divine spirit. It is not strictly possession because the deity does not take over. The person is instead sharing his mortal body, an experience that could be both intoxicating and terrifying. The central conflict of this poem is in the narrator as he comes to grips with what he must do to grow as a creative individual. Early in the poem, in section 3, as well as at the end, in section 7, the narrator is concerned with the idea that he has to give himself up to the flames. The flames he is talking about are those of his own passion and creativity. He is unsure about throwing himself in, as his brother told him to do. But then he reflects upon the wintry ruins of his former work and the mundane nothingness looming before him. The rooster arrives and shows him that fire is, indeed, the way. In giving himself to the fire of creativity, the narrator recognizes that “his one work / is / to open himself.” Fire is transformative: That which it burns can never be restored. This irreversibility need not be looked upon as destructive, which is the narrator’s fear. Fire is not a tool for him to master but a conduit through which he must move to become...

(The entire section is 1470 words.)

Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman

In the following essay excerpt, Zimmerman explores the themes of isolation, struggle and...

(The entire section is 2603 words.)

Charles Frazier

Charles Frazier

In the following essay, Frazier gives a critical analysis of Kinnell’s work.


(The entire section is 2897 words.)