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How the Fire got its Smoke

  • Features

By Amelia Storey, BA History

In a quiet valley between ancient hills,

There lived an old lady, with ancient skills.

She weeded her crops, milked her goat

And tended a fire which never, ever smoked.

It had been burning for as long as she knew

Through rain, snow and winds that blew.

It warmed the old lady, cooked her dinner,

And kept her company when the stars didn’t glitter.

Then one morning, whilst out stacking wood,

The earth started shaking beneath where she stood. 

An ugly giant came over the hilltop, 

And paused on the crest to hoist a big flag up. 

“I’m here!” He announced with a sneer.

“Now feed me with all of your knowledge, old dear. 

My belly groans and rumbles like thunder, 

And it is for power that I hunger!”

“I’ll swallow your books, your papers I’ll bite – 

There can’t be much in this simple life. 

Trust me, it’s best I rule this land,” 

He crossed his heart with a grubby hand. 

The old lady held her temper

And said: “My knowledge isn’t trapped on paper! 

It’s not all dusty on some shelves. 

It’s right here, in between ourselves.”

The Giant, he looked all around; 

There was no knowledge to be found. 

He saw no books, no written word, 

Just a fire that burned and burned. 

He thought that she was ‘poor’ and ‘dumb’ 

To live as she did with the Earth and the Sun. 

But his hunger for knowledge was far too great 

To leave any crumb off his worldwide plate.

“But he’d eat knowledge however it came:

To him all knowledge meant power the same.”

Books were what the Giant preferred. 

His mouth would dribble for the printed word, 

But he’d eat knowledge however it came:

To him all knowledge meant power the same. 

So if this old lady had none of the ‘good stuff ’, 

He’d gobble her up (though she looked a bit tough!)

She might taste of old herbs, or wood sap all burnt,

And surely of tastes he’d never yet learnt. 

Whilst he sat, dribbling and thinking, 

The old lady waited and broke up some kindling. 

Her life, to him, might appear strange, 

But she was happy, wise and had no wish to change. 

“I keep no books, no written word. 

Knowledge is something used, and heard. 

It is my tool, my tune and tongue; 

It’s in this fire, my heart and lungs.” 

After a moment, the Giant lurched, 

“This fire must be studied, watched, researched! 

Its knowledge will be all laid bare 

For me to eat from my armchair. 

I’ll know it better than ever you did 

Because I’m clever, and you’re like a kid.”

He pounced, trying to catch the flames 

But they dodged and dived in a dangerous game. 

Having watched him for a bit, 

The old lady plucked a stick alit.

“This fire cannot be understood 

By he who wishes no one good. 

It cannot be stolen, put out or harmed; 

It will survive, even if you are armed. 

But since you are hungry for its knowledge, 

Why not eat some, as if it were porridge?”

The Giant, so greedy for knowledge was he, 

Couldn’t resist such an offer, you see. 

He opened his mouth bigger than her, 

And in went the flame and the stick with a whir.

Down it dropped, all the way to his tummy 

And landed on a pile of books and honey.

Before you could say “Knowledge for tea!” 

The flames had spread all the way to his knees. 

“Ouch, ouch, ouch!” The Giant cried 

As he hopped all the way to the seaside.

Then, in he went, head first with a splash; 

Gone were the Giant and the flames, in a flash.

The old lady sat alone 

Close to her fire, warmed to the bone. 

She gave the logs a gentle poke,

And over the hills, glimpsed a cloud of smoke.

Photo caption: “His hunger for knowledge was far too great to leave any crumb off his worldwide plate” (Illustration by Amelia Storey).

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