The poem “Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost is one that deals with the age-old topic of how the world will end. The title makes one think of fire, a hot, scalding, flesh burning evil, and ice, a freezing, blood chilling property. The question for the reader is, does he or she thinks the destruction of our planet will end in fire or ice? Which would be better? And what exactly is fire? According to Webster’s Dictionary, fire is “a state, process, or instance of combustion in which fuel or other material is ignited and combined with oxygen, giving off light, heat, and flame” (Dictionary). Fire in this sense can be totally different. As can be ice. Typically, you think of ice as being cold and harmless. But to think of the world ending in ice, would be extremely harmful.
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Love and hate also play key roles in the poem, as well as in life in general. Serio explains in a journal that “Fire and Ice” is a similar poem to Dante’s Inferno, being that it presents more elaborate differences between the extremities of love and hate (Serio 218). Frost uses tone, allusion, and diction to convey how both fire and ice can combine to have the same consequences if hatred or desires get out of hand.
“Robert Frost was born in San Francisco in March 1874. His father died when he was eleven, and he moved to Massachusetts to live with his grandparents. He was co-valedictorian for his high school, and began writing poetry during his high school years. He attended Dartmouth College for only one term, and then worked at several different jobs, including journalist and schoolteacher. He sold his first poem in 1894 and his first book of poetry in 1913. In 1897, he returned to school at Harvard, and attended two more years. In 1900, he moved to New Hampshire and attempted to become a poultry farmer, but he returned to teaching in 1906. His years in New Hampshire provided many of the poems that he would become world famous for, including “Mending Wall” and “Mowin” (Academon). This information about the background of Frost’s life shows his high intellect and possibly reasoning behind why his writings were in difficult nature to understand.
In the first half of the poem, the speaker is showing a feeling of detachment. The first two lines state that “some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice” (445). This sentence expresses a sense of distance from the world. The speaker is detached in saying that the end of the world will come in a controversial way. The second and third lines of the poem bring the reader into perspective with the speaker now introducing an opinion. “From what I’ve tasted of desire I hold with those who favor fire” (445). This also introduces an infuriated tone in that by referencing fire, gives the reader a thought of rage and anger. In this line of the poem, it can be said that Frost holds with Aristotle’s belief in condemning hatred as far worse than desire (Serio 218). Moreover, the reader can gather from Frost’s work that sins of reason could possibly be worse than sins of passion that relate back to desires (Serio 219). Humor also plays an important role in the tone of the poem. One would not think that a simple title of “Fire and Ice” would be humorous in any way, but lines five to the end change the attitude and bring about the main question for the reader, how do you think the end of our civilization will come about?
Frost is masterful in the way he combines the ideas of biblical references and science in a short poem. The last line introduces the idea that the world may end in fire. This is an allusion to the Holy Bible of the Christian faith. The Bible speaks about how the earth was flooded long ago during the time of Noah, and that the second destruction will be with fire. This is God’s will and he would have the world perish in this manner. God made this statement after recognizing the world should not ever end in flood again. Frost also brings ice into perspective in the second line of the poem. This is a reference to science in relation to the Ice Age. Scientists believe that how humans are treating this planet could bring about another Ice Age, yet there is still a large debate recognizing the depletion of the ozone layer causing the Earth the become excessively warmer over the years. By introducing this topic, the reader gets a contradictory feeling between religion and science. Frost also states that his opinion could sway in either direction between fire and ice destroying the world. Simply stated, fire would be okay for the Earth to be destroyed, but ice “would suffice” (445). Both contradicting ideas and the opinions presented make for a richer comparison of the two elements. Overall, by keeping his meaning understated and simple to read, but more difficult to understand, Frost considerably enriches the meaning of his brief lyric-like poem (Serio 220).
Frost also uses words and phrases that seem above average that keeps the poem flowing. For example, his tasting of desire is strong and aids in his main point to be easily indicated from reading. Although one cannot actually taste desire, Frost’s simplicity in writing and his use of figurative language keeps the reader motivated and thinking about his or her own desires in life. The third and last sentence of the poem is nearly half of the poem itself. This introduces the humorous aspect that gives more insight into the mind of Robert Frost. The pun of the word “ice” in the words “twice” and “suffice” seem to add to the bitter coldness of hatred by using a triple repetition (Serio 220). By saying that if the world perished twice, that ice would do just as well a job as fire, it shows that Frost has no preference for means by which the end of the world will take place. It introduces the question to the reader in more depth and allows Frost to stay mysterious and leave the question unanswered as he does in much of his work.
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“Always fall in with what you’re asked to accept. Take what is given, and make it over your way. My aim in life has always been to hold my own with whatever’s going. Not against: with.” This quote by Robert Frost brings into context the issue of religion in that we, as people, are asked to accept that God created the universe and he controls the final destruction of the world. Science also gets involved because and reels from biblical aspects. Science essentially remakes the principles that are underlying, and take what is given to rework ideas into what is believed to be suitable. A man named Harlow Shapley claims to be the muse, so-to-speak, of Robert Frost when Frost wrote “Fire and Ice.” Sharpley claims that Frost begged for his attention and insight into astronomy and eventually asked his opinion on the matter of how the world will end (Hansen 28). The two conversed and later on in the evening, met up again to speak more on the matter. “I told him that either the earth would be incinerated or a permanent ice age would gradually annihilate all life on earth” (Hansen 28). This statement by Sharpley could very well be attributed to the writing of “Fire and Ice.” Sharpley goes into further detail about why the world will possibly end in either of these two ways. Articles have been published that explain even more that the mind of Robert Frost cannot be unhinged. Sharpley gives himself credit for the meaning behind the poem, but in fact, not one person can ever really interpret the underlying facts behind what Robert Frost could have been thinking.
In conclusion, the poem “Fire and Ice” is filled with many different literary aspects, as well as delivering a multitude of messages to the reader. There is no true definition of the poem’s meaning. Frost created his poem as a brain teaser, and it has continued to be one throughout the years since.
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