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Poetry Analysis: Robert Frost's "Fire and Ice"

Rukhaya MK, an award-winning writer, has published her works in national and international anthologies and journals.

Robert Frost's poetry is infused with symbolism and connotative value. Frost's treatment of nature is not Romantic, and does not pertain to moral edification like Wordsworth." While Wordsworth makes the natural supernatural, and Coleridge leaves the supernatural natural, Robert Frost renders the natural universal. Robert Frost's "Fire and Ice", though a small poem, is replete with strong symbolism and therefore has a universal appeal. Harlow Shapley, an American astronomer who taught at Harvard for many years claimed that he inspired the poem. The poem is in smooth iambic meter.

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.

Let me first allude to the essential difference between 'fire' and 'ice'. The four basic elements are earth, water, air and fire. They all hold the exquisite property of purification. However,' fire' possesses an attribute that none of these have. The rest purify, but they get impure in the process. 'Fire' is the only element that purifies and stays uncontaminated even after purification. Moreover, human beings are more vulnerable to extreme cold than extreme heat. This is why the poet seems to favour 'fire' as an element over 'ice'. As an element he would attribute second place to 'ice', that is, if the earth were to perish twice.

Fire also stands for 'passion' and 'the warmth of love,' whereas, 'ice' connotes 'indifference' and 'cold-bloodedness' While the poet may wish for the earth to end in love in the former section; he comprehends in the latter part that 'hate' may make it easier for people to separate from each other.


Next, we analyze the possibility of the earth ending in 'ice' or 'fire.' Only the believers of faith would go for the second option; the agnostics would go for 'ice'. It would therefore reveal the conflict between science and religion. Modern Science explains how global warming could trigger a new ice age, which would destroy all life as we know it. In Frost's "Birches" he states he would like to swing on the branches of the birches and ascend to heavenly altitudes. Subsequently, he declares that he would like to come back to earth, for, "Earth's the right place for love." In "The Road Not Taken", the poet ponders on opting for one of the two routes and later goes for a different decision. Here too, the poet appears to be taking a U-turn. He chooses 'fire' first; and then says that if the earth were to perish twice, he would go for "ice". Anna.K.Juhnke in her essay "Religion in Robert Frost's Poetry: The Play for Self-Possession" asserts that "religious" is one of the last adjectives that would be used to describe Robert Frost's poetry.

The next interpretation, the one I find the most plausible is 'fire' and 'ice' referring to 'hell' and 'heaven' respectively. In the first case, Frost deems hell ultimately suitable for the world driven by 'desire'. He claims the guilty must be put to test. Though, he asserts that if the world were to perish twice, he would prefer 'ice' or 'heaven' for the world has had enough of 'hate'. Frost seems to echo that being a human being is not a 'Faustian contract.' Man does not have to essentially pay the price for his enjoyment, he must have his share of 'ice' too.

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Finally, as I analyze the poem on a literal level, I find that if Frost has opted for 'ice' were the world were to perish twice, it must be out of favouritism. Why? Because 'ice' is nothing but a synonym for 'Frost' (the poet's name). Critics have time and again commented on the poet's tendency to pun on his own name.

© 2019 Rukhaya M K


Rukhaya M K (author) from India on October 02, 2019:

Thank you, Peggy. I am doing research on Frost. Critics have time and again commented on Frost's tendency to pun on his name. For instance, at the beginning of "Mending Wall," Frost states that the frozen groundswell does not like the wall. In other words, he is giving us a hint as to where his allegiance lies...that the 'frozen groundswell' is Frost himself.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 02, 2019:

Your interpretations of this poem by Robert Frost was enlightening. I had never given thought to his use of a pun regarding his last name. Robert Frost is one of my old-time favorite poets.

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