Fire, fire, eternal / fire of Heraclitus, a rapacious messenger, / a boy with a mouth stained by blackberries.
This excerpt closes Adam Zagajewski’s poem “Fire, Fire,” originally published in English translation in Tremor. The poem follows another poem entitled “Fire” which focuses on the destructive nature of flame. “Fire, Fire,” however, addresses the internal, metaphorical flame that drives innovation and creation.
Zagajewski references Heraclitus as a leading apostle of this metaphorical, eternal fire. Heraclitus was a Greek philosopher who believed that literal fire was the origin of all things and that everything exists in a process of constant change. The soul, according to Heraclitus, is composed of a mixture of fire and water, and the more fire within the soul, the nobler, the more ambitious, and the more innovative it is.
Heraclitus himself could be the “rapacious messenger,” too eager in his pursuit and delivery of knowledge and philosophy. But Zagajewski’s lines encourage the reader to also consider the messenger, or the “boy with a mouth stained by blackberries,” as the carnal embodiment of the eternal, internal fire. The boy’s stained mouth illustrates his rapacity, the eagerness with which he consumed the delectable fruit. His haste in eating the blackberries (not to mention his role as a messenger) embodies Heraclitus’ idea of constant movement and change.
While on one hand, the image of the boy may appear innocent and enthusiastic, the use of the word “rapacious” colors the image with menace. Rapacity exceeds greed in aggressiveness, involving the use of violent force to get what one wants. This allows Zagajewski to end his poem with not only a memorable image, but also with irony. While the internal fire of passionate thought and innovation can be used for true creation (e.g. writing symphonies and painting frescoes), applied elsewhere, it can create means of destruction (e.g. atomic bombs and chemical weapons). The sweetness of the berries begets the stain on the mouth. Zagajewski recognizes technology and advance as a double-edged sword, forged in the fires of human ingenuity and desire. But through the end of this poem, he also recognizes that creation and destruction are inextricably linked in Heraclitus’ cycle of continual change.