Fire and Ice

Fire and Ice

by Robert Frost

Fire and Ice by Robert Frost – Summary

In Short

  • The poem “Fire and Ice” talks about the end of the world. According to some people, the world will end in fire. Others say that ice will destroy the world.
  • The poet gives his personal opinion. He supports those who sees the possibility of the end of the world in fire, as fire stands for passion and desire.
  • The poet adds that if the world gets a second chance to perish, the reason will be ice, as it symbolizes coldness of heart – hatred and lack of human compassion.

Fire and Ice Explanation

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.

The poem opens with a profound idea about the end of the world. The poet presents two completely opposite views regarding this. Those are based on the saying of people. Some say the world will end in fire while others say it will end in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.

The poet agrees with those people who believe that the world will be burnt in fire. Fire symbolizes desire, greed, avarice or lust. The poet-speaker knows quite well how all these evils put an end to human life. He has seen the result of unending and uncontrolled desires over the life of human beings. The more you try to fulfil them, the more the desires grow. It leads us to the path of destruction.

The poet, therefore, compares desire to fire. People want to satisfy their desire but gradually it grows more. Similarly, fire grows rapidly and engulfs our whole life. There is no end to it. Desires make one selfish and cruel too. The speaker has ‘tasted’ it. He considers it a big reason for the destruction of the world.

But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

The poet thinks if the world has to perish once more, ice would be the destroyer then. Ice is equally potent like fire to end the life of human beings. Here, ice stands for coldness of heart, rigidity, hatred and lack of human compassion. The poet says that he has seen enough of hate. He is quite familiar with the way hatred leads to the end of life.

People grow insensitive and cruel because of hatred. It makes them blind and ignorant. They even don’t care about their near and dear ones. Ice can make the body numb with its prolonged contact. Similarly, hatred can give numbness to our mind and thoughts. So, the poet believes that the ice of hatred would be enough and a great reason to ruin our life.

Fire and Ice – Critical Commentary

“Fire and Ice” is a symbolic (or, metaphorical) poem by the American poet Robert Frost. The poem was written in 1920 and first published in December 1920 in Harper’s Magazine and later in 1923 in his Pulitzer Prize-winning volume “New Hampshire”.

According to Frost’s biographers, the poem was inspired by a passage in Dante’s “Inferno”, Canto 32. On the other hand, the American Astronomer Harlow Shapley claimed in 1960 that his meeting with Robert Frost inspired him to write the poem. Frost asked him how the world will end. Shapley replied that either the sun will explode and burn the Earth, or the Earth will slowly be freezing in the deep space.

Robert Frost’s one of the shorter poems, “Fire and Ice” is written in very simple language in a nine-line stanza. Iambic tetrameter and dimeter lines are in an irregular mix with a rhyme scheme of ABA ABC BCB, loosely resembling Dante’s Terza Rima.

The poet has employed several poetic devices in the poem. Frost has used fire and ice as metaphors for desire and hatred respectively, making the poem essentially metaphorical. Fire and ice are also personified by giving them mind and capability to destroy anything. There are examples of alliteration in “some says”, “favor fire” and “world will”. We find an underlying irony in the poem when the poet presents two opposite elements in fire and ice and says that they both can have the same destructive effect on humans, despite their contradictory nature. Moreover, there is the use of enjambment, where a sentence continues to the next line of the verse.

Though very short, the poem gives much to the readers to ponder on. Though fire and ice are powerful natural phenomena and hold the potential to end lives on earth, Frost thinks otherwise. He believes we humans could well become more powerful destroyer of this world. According to the poet, our desire or hatred will be the reason for the end of the world. Thus, the poet conveys a great message that we should learn to live in harmony and peace to keep this world habitable for generations to come. In its theme the poem resembles James Patrick Kinney’s poem “The Cold Within”.

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