Baptism of Fire

Meaning of “Baptism of Fire”

The phrase “baptism of fire” means a difficult and tough introduction to a new task, or job. It may be connected to the first experience of a newly recruited soldier of the real battlefield. As a person who starts a new job usually faces many obstacles. This phrase also refers to a very difficult or unpleasant experience of something new or any tough first encounter. The phrase can also be used as a caution to anyone who chooses to go for an adventure or dangerous career.

Origin of “Baptism of Fire”

The phrase “baptism by fire” is translated from the French phrase, “le baptéme du feu”. It derived from the Biblical verse of Mathew 3:11, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.” Later it has been used extensively in literature such as George Lawrence writes this phrase in his book published in 1857, Guy Livingstone as “It’s only in their baptism of fire that the young ones shrink and start.”

Examples from Literature

Example #1

A City’s Death By Fire Derek Walcott

After that hot gospeller has levelled all but the churched sky,
I wrote the tale by tallow of a city’s death by fire;
Under a candle’s eye, that smoked in tears, I
Wanted to tell, in more than wax, of faiths that were snapped like wire.
All day I walked abroad among the rubbled tales,
Shocked at each wall that stood on the street like a liar;
Loud was the bird-rocked sky, and all the clouds were bales
Torn open by looting, and white, in spite of the fire

By the smoking sea, where Christ walked, I asked, why
Should a man wax tears, when his wooden world fails?
In town, leaves were paper, but the hills were a flock of faiths;
To a boy who walked all day, each leaf was a green breath
Rebuilding a love I thought was dead as nails,
Blessing the death and the baptism by fire.

Derek Walcott, a Nobel prize-winning poet, tried to explain different religious references. He compares the natural world and the man-made world. He expresses his sorrow and sadness when the city faces destruction. On the other hand, he appreciates the natural world using religious imagery. The use of this phrase by the end of the poem reflects the idea of Christian baptism because fire purifies the city, which means that it does not destroy it.

 Example #2

Baptism of Fire by August Stramm

His body shrinks its loosely-fitting tunic.
His head creeps down into his boots.
Throttles his gun.
Rattle shrill,
Rattle swathe,
Rattle stumble,
Trigger off
His eye
A shot.
Hands grip schnapps.
Defiance loads.
Determination aims
A steely look
Another’s fate.

The above poem was written in German by August Stramm using a broken rhyme pattern. Later it was translated into English by Patrick Bridgwater. This poem gives an insight into the chaos of the battlefield. August Stramm wrote this poem during the German battle while he was in the German Army’s front line. He writes about the trauma he goes through and also observes using symbolism and imagery. The use of this phrase as the title of the poem shows his difficult experience and the horror and chaos in the battlefield.

Example #3

Under the Stars and Bars by Walter A. Clark

“In devotion to the cause, for which he fought, in readiness to accept the gravest personal risks, in apparently absolute unconsciousness of danger, he was every inch a soldier.

And now what were my own sensations in this, my first baptism of fire? A candid confession is said to be good for the soul, but whether it would be good for the reputation in this particular case is another matter.”

The above paragraphs tell about the real-life experience of a military man, Clark. In fact, Clark recounts his experiences during his four-year service in the military along with his comrades. Clark discusses his first battle. Hence, the use of this phrase describes Clark’s challenging situation he endured in the fight.

Example #4

From Sea to Sea by Rudyard Kipling

When you have seen a burning mountain, you begin to appreciate Japanese architecture. It is not solid. Everyone is burned out once or twice casually. A business isn’t respectable until it has received its baptism of fire.

This short paragraph shows his perceptions about the Japanese and their way of constructing their buildings. Making reference to the Japanese mountains, the author proposes that every praiseworthy thing comes after hard work, sincere efforts, or difficult experience. The phrase as a reference to the religious context “baptism of fire” to show his own Christian faith. However, he also means that when a person starts a new business, it’s filled with uncertainty and difficulty, but they have to endure it.

Example in Sentences

Example #1: “The day you marched onto the combat zone, you would realize how uninformed boys experience the baptism of fire to become military men.”

Example #2: “To manage a project milestone in Keren’s first month of the new job was an absolute baptism of fire.”

Example #3: “Scientists have to go through the baptism of fire before achieving their breakthrough. At times, it takes years.”

Example#4: “For a new intern working an extra shift at the hospital is like a baptism of fire. Most difficult and emergency cases are usually brought at night.”

Example#5: “You have to be prepared for any challenges that might come in your career. There are difficult managers and jealous colleagues. Facing them will be like the baptism of fire.”