Robert Frost's poem, 'Fire and Ice,' conveys a simple but important theme about human behavior. Delve into this lesson to discover how grim this poem's perspective is on hatred and obsession.
Destruction in 'Fire and Ice'
Robert Frost's poetry is some of the most memorable and influential in the English language. Having won four Pulitzer prizes for his poetry, it's fair to say that Frost knew a thing or two about theme and using imagery to evoke emotion in his audience.
'Fire and Ice,' a poem of only nine short lines, is written about destruction, about the inevitable demise that hatred and obsession will bring. In the first line of the poem, Frost indicates the end, or demise, and the two ways in which it can happen: fire or ice.
'Some say the world will end in fire
Some say in ice.'
The 'world,' as it's intended in this poem, does not refer to the earth, but the life one lives. Essentially, 'fire' and 'ice' refer to obsession and hatred, respectively.
The poem is meant to serve as an analysis of one's life and how it is lived. Should a person be driven by an unhealthy obsession, then their demise will be fiery and quick. Obsessions can be any number of vices that one prioritizes over healthy pursuits or a productive quality of life. If a person is overcome with hatred, their demise will be cold and unforgiving.
Frost's connection of fire and desire in the second two lines of the poem offer Frost's belief in what others have said about destruction. Frost, or the narrator, has given him or herself to an unhealthy desire at one point or another and has a first-hand knowledge of how detrimental obsession can be.
'From what I've tasted of desire,
I hold with those who favor fire.'
Obsession is all consuming, like fire, which burns everything away until there is nothing left. Like fire, obsession reduces an individual's perspective to nothing but the object of their desire, and will essentially ruin a person when that object is gone or no longer available.
The Same Outcome
Frost's fifth line, 'But if it had to perish twice,' serves as a comparison between fire and ice or obsession and hatred. While they are different, the outcome is the same; destruction. The last lines of the poem indicate and equal but different end:
'I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
is also great
And would suffice.'
Unlike fire, ice freezes things in place, eliminating any opportunity for them to do anything but remain still. Hatred eliminates love, leaving the person who hates isolated and frozen in the misery they have inflicted on themselves with an absence of understanding and love.
Destruction and Salvation
An interesting point of this, and what is also implied in this poem, because there is destruction, there is also salvation. Just like fire and ice are opposing elements, salvation and destruction are also opposing.
The message behind the poem is to not over do it. There's room for desire, provided it's not all-consuming. There is room for dislike as well, but if that dislike becomes an all-consuming hatred, there is no outcome more inevitable than destruction.
Robert Frost's 'Fire and Ice' is about destruction, the central theme of the poem.
- The first part of the poem reflects on destruction by fire which is caused by obsession.
- The second part of the poem indicates destruction by ice, which is causes by a complete absence of love or an all-consuming hatred for someone or something.
Given the ambiguous nature of the word choice in the poem; however, the poem also implies a way for salvation, especially when compared to the opposing elements fire and ice.
''Fire and Ice'': Deeper Dives
This lesson gave an analysis of Robert Frost's famous poem, ''Fire and Ice.'' The following prompts can be used by students to broaden their own understandings or by teachers to create lesson plans.
This poem, while short, leaves lots of room for various interpretations. In this lesson, you read it as a poem about destruction in an individual's life. What other readings of the poem are there? How does the text support these readings? Write your own interpretation or create a debate around one or more possible ways of reading the poem.
Understanding the time period in which Robert Frost was writing is important to understanding the poem itself. ''Fire and Ice'' was first published in 1920, just after the end of the First World War. How might this historical milieu have influenced Frost's writing and his perspective on people and the world? Does the historical context make any difference to a contemporary reading of the poem? Write a paragraph or essay explaining your thoughts.
Whether you read ''Fire and Ice'' as a poem about individual or worldwide destruction, it is clear that death and endings are important in the work. With reference to some of the examples below, think about poetry that deals with the end of the world or the end of a life. Write your own poem that considers these themes from your point of view. Your poem does not have to be tragic; it can talk about new beginnings after old things die away, or death as a form of salvation.
Examples: ''Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night'' by Dylan Thomas; ''The Second Coming'' by William Butler Yeats; ''There Will Come Soft Rains'' by Sara Teasdale; ''We Lived Happily During the War'' by Ilya Kaminsky; ''The Hollow Men'' by T. S. Eliot; ''A Song on the End of the World'' by Czeslaw Milosz.