It’s a kind of magic. Firelight makes time stand still. When you put out the lamps and sit in the firelight’s glow there aren’t any rules any more. You can do what you want, say what you want, be what you want, and when the lamps are lit again, time starts again, and everything you said or did is forgotten. More than forgotten it never happened. Elizabeth (Sophie Marceau) to Louisa in the film “Firelight” (1997).
Fire, and the command of fire, has determined human society. Fire is in our DNA. It is a dangerous creature, capricious in nature. But the ability to control fire gave early man a sustainable advantage over all other animals. It gave us warmth in the cold, protection against predators, light in the darkness. Fire also gave us a way to convert food by cooking. This improved our calorific harvest from foods by cooking them. For some foods it made them palatable, killed poisons or sterilised the food of harmful bacteria.
What happened first, did man make fire or did fire make man?
There is a special atmosphere when we gather by the light of a fire and only the light of a fire. These days inside the house that only really happens when we have a power cut and we resort to the fireplace and candles for illumination.
In the open it is a joy to share a campfire, a bonfire or a firepit. The flames dancing over the logs engage something very primal in our beings. Around the fire we revert to a pre-civilisation society, a small intimate tribe. The fire is a place where we can talk, share and confess to our hopes, our dreams and our fears.
All this post arose from a news story that a researcher found a hitherto unknown poem by Siegfried Sassoon. It is thought to have been penned of his lover Glen Byam Shaw. They lived in a time when to be gay was a dangerous occupation and could send you to prison. So you may see why it reminded me of the quote from the film Firelight above. In the firelight’s glow you can be what you want.
Untitled poem by Siegfried Sassoon
Though you have left me, I’m not yet alone:
For what you were befriends the firelit room;
And what you said remains & is my own
To make a living gladness of my gloom
The firelight leaps & shows your empty chair
And all our harmonies of speech are stilled:
But you are with me in the voiceless air
My hands are empty, but my heart is filled.