Fire And Ice: by Robert Frost - Summary & Analysis

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Fire And Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
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.

Some say the world will end in fire, Some say in ice. From what I've tasted of desire I hold with those who favor fire. 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.
Fire And Ice

Summary and Analysis


      Fire And Ice is one of Frost's finest lyrics, and was first published in a collection entitled New Hampshire. It offers in the form of an epigram, a bit of speculation about the end of the world and the beginning of wisdom. This short lyric is conciseness and precision exemplified. The poem consists of only nine lines. The poem illustrates very well Frost's metaphysical manner and his efficiency in not only juxtaposing but also reconciling altogether antithetical concepts. The bringing together of fire and ice is perhaps a unique phenomenon in literary history.


      Fire and Ice is an astoundingly short lyric of nine lines only but these nine lines are loaded with tons of meaning - meaning which is implied and reveals itself only to the inquiring temper and the laboring receptive mind. The poem brings home to us the paradox of humane existence. This paradox inherent in the poem is symbolized by the title of the poem Fire and Ice. The poet feels that the world will one day be consumed by excess of fire. But the poet also thinks that if the world were to end twice even ice could destroy the world, and there was sufficient ice for this. If interpreted at a symbolic level we could say that fire stands for extreme intensity of warm loving emotions while ice stands for utter negation or lack of feelings or it could be hate outright. At the crux of the poem lies the idea that extreme forms of either hate or love are equally disastrous and possess the power to destroy the world within the wink of an eye. The last line of the poem makes us feel that the poem does not question either the existence or the potency of these powers. He is conscious of the ruinous capacities of these two powers and is perhaps an intuitive, silent but hopelessly helpless spectator of the world heading towards its end in one of the two ways (what a choice!). What can be more piteous and ironic than one seeing one's own self and one's fellow beings heading forward towards inevitable destruction - there is no choice between life and death: there is only a choice in the method of death.

      A mood of helpless gloom pervades the poem. There is a realistic pessimism by which the poem is governed. It seems that Robert Frost sees the bitter reality of the world with a rare detachment as though he were not a part of the world.

Critical Analysis:

      This uncommonly short poem by Frost has received rare critical focus. Many critics have tried to interpret the poem and each has his own point of view. Dwelling on the theme of the poem Thompson says: "The analogy here implied establishes a comparison between the heat of the love or passion and the cold of the hate. Coupled with this is the hint of the destructive power of these two extremes of human passion; cataclysmic power. But there is also a further suggestion; these two extremes are made as to encompass life as to be gathering up of all that may exist between them; all that may be swept away by them: then the terse thrust of the last line emphasizes the smilingly sad acceptance, on the part of the poet." In this poem, the poet gives expression to his long-held belief - a belief of which he is convinced from the core of his heart - that the extreme polarities, fundamental in the panorama of human existence are impulse and thought, desire and reason, heart and mind. Rarely are beliefs conveyed in such a clear, vivid, efficacious and epigrammatic manner.

      Exploring the imagery and the symbolic meanings of the metaphors fire an ice, Lynen says, "By the linking of desire to fire and hate to ice, human emotions are transformed into vast, impersonal forces. In terms of imagery alone the poem is extremely rich, and one could find great complexity of meaning in the paradoxes, it reveals, as for example in the idea that the intensity of man's passions, the very thing which makes him human, creates the inhuman forces of cataclysm. Untermeyer is all praise for the concise precision and epigrammatic terseness of the poem: The poem Fire and Ice is a masterpiece of condensation. Here, wrapped in an epigram is a speculation concerning the end of the world and the beginning of wisdom".

      Critics have spilled much ink on the hard tone of the poem. This hard quality of the tone of the poem comes from the fact that the poem takes an admirably detached and disinterested stand in the poem. He just presents the case as it is; he does not appear to be affected. He is cool and unruffled. But this hardness is seeped through and through in the poem, and as Brower Says "the hardness comes through also in the tone and in the modelings of Sound. .."

      Structurally, the poem is an achievement. The entire poem is a compact unit. The essence of the poem is in simple analogies of fire and ice but these analogies assume universal dimensions making the analogies unusually incisive. After analyzing the poem in detail, Thompson remarks that the poem is "structurally, such a compact unit, nicely balanced, strikes with the clear accuracy of a poised fist. The backward thrust of fire at the end of the fourth line seems to intensify the thought; the paired rhymes in the second half to lead such a natural pause after "great", that the octosyllabic line is permitted to break to give the seemingly internal rhyme after force and to permit the laconic understatement of the last three words".

      The poem defies the charge of Puritanism that is generally leveled against Frost. To degrade him people talk of Yeats's spur to lust and rage, as if Frost did not know or have any of these. Frost's mature poetry illustrates the remark that Pound made with reference to his early work: "There are only two passions in art: there are only love and hate - with endless modifications". Fire and Ice is Frost's poem of dry-eyed acceptance of both passions in their most destructive form.

      In the poem Fire and Ice, fire symbolizes the heat of passion and ice represents the cold of hate. Together they symbolize the destructive passions of mankind. Too much of either may destroy the entire world. It is also possible to interpret fire as desire and ice as reason. Desire and reason are inimical to each other and each by itself can produce adverse results if carried too far.

Paraphrase: Line by Line Explanation

      Line. 1-2. Some ice - The repeated repetition of the phrase 'some say' conveys a mood of studied callous detachment. To quote a famous critic, it is as if a super scientist were weighing possible ends of the world, clinically viewing the scene before pronouncing his decision.

      Line. 3-4. From what...favour fire - The poet says that from his own experience of desire, he is led to believe that intensity of desire carried to an extreme can manifest itself in violent forms leading to disastrous results. The poet says that he vehemently agrees with people who thinks that fire (intensity of desire) will be the cause of the end of the world.

      Line. 5. But if...perish twice - Here it is the line construction that is of utmost importance. The world cannot perish twice. It has to perish only once. The idea of the world perishing twice is simply silly and funny. So the use of the word if is very important if the line has to make any sense to the reader.

      Line. 9. And would suffice - The poem ends with this line. In lines 6-9, the poet says that he is confident that he knows enough of hatred and is sure that it has the capacity to destroy the world. He also expresses his conviction that there is ample ice in the world - sufficient to destroy the world thoroughly. The poem reads like the report of a scientist in which he has weighed all evidence for and against the subject in hand. The poem ends with a note of chill politeness. "The chill is increased by the way the speaker harps on the same words and rhymes, keeping his rasping sounds always in our ear".


      Finally, we conclude that though the poem is philosophical, it is not the thought content that dominates the poem. As Brower puts it, "the ultimate hardness of the Frostian seer is revealed in Fire and Ice, a poem that looks like geology and most certainly isn't.

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