Analyzing an End of the World Poem by Robert Frost: "Fire and Ice"

Updated on February 18, 2020
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Fire and Ice
Fire and Ice | Source

Robert Frost's Fire and Ice is a brief yet thought-provoking poem. It's a quick and easy read for poem enthusiasts and poem haters alike. It touches on a controversial subject which as human beings we have speculated about over thousands of years.

Do you think there's something like an end of the world? If yes, how do you think the world will end. Robert Frost summarized his opinion about this matter in Fire and Ice. The following analysis of Fire and Ice will examine the structure, theme, and significance of the poem.

Robert Frost Supports two ideas in this poem. Will the world end in fire or ice? It seems he supports one idea more than the other.

Fire and Ice by Robert Frost

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.

Source:poetryfoundation.org

Fire and Ice Structural Analysis

Stanza form

Robert Frost's Fire and Ice comprises of 1 stanza with 9 lines. The poem has three sentences based on the punctuation. Every complete sentence expresses a different idea and ends with a period.

The first sentence begins on line 1 and ends on line 2. The second sentence begins on line 3 and ends on line 4. The third sentence is the longest through five lines—line 5 to line 9.

Related article: Types of Stanzas in Poetry

Title

The title, Fire and Ice, is direct and exact with assonance since the same syllable sound "a" is consecutively repeated thrice in the 3 words: "fire," "and," "ice."

Rhyme scheme

The rhyme scheme is abaabcbcb where the following words rhyme

fire—desire—fire

ice—twice—ice

great—hate

Meter

All lines have 8 syllables except for line 2,8, and 9 which have 4 syllables.

However, it's an irregular meter which is also quite regular as well. Perhaps concerning the fire and ice concept of the two extremes existing at the same time.

Spot iambic pentameter on lines 3 and 4:

From what I've tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire

Note that, the poet shortened "I have" by using "I've" to make the syllables 8 since if written in full it would have made 9 syllables.

Rhythm

The poem has a definite beat based on the syllable counts as explained above.

Whose side are you on?

If the world ends today, would you prefer to burn or freeze?

Fire and Ice Restatement

There are different views about the end of the world. According to some people, the world will end with fire. On the other hand, others say it will end with ice.

As for me, I agree with those who say that the world will end with fire. But ice is also destructive and can cause the end of the world as well. Both desire and hatred can cause the end of the world, but for ice, it will take perishing twice.

Literary Devices in Fire and Ice

Alliteration

The repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words within one line in this poem are as follows:

some say

The world will

favor fire

The above examples can also double as evidence of consonance.

Anaphora

Fire and Ice has a clear use of anaphora in the sense that one phrase is repeated twice right at the beginning of the poem. The focus phrase here is: "Some say.."

Enjambment

The following lines use enjambment because a complete sentence but has been broken down to make three lines.

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.

The poet used enjambment for the sake of continuing the end rhymes.

Metaphor

The keywords of the poem— fire and ice have a metaphorical sense.

Fire is compared to desire.

Ice is compared to hatred.

Both desire and hatred are human emotions. Hence, it seems the term the world could also metaphorically signify "people" and not the literal earth. Given the description of the poem, it can apply to people because the poem focuses on human emotions. Think of the vices which have been committed in the world due to desire and hatred. As a result, human beings have killed each other and if that continues human beings might kill each other to the end.

However, fire is not always a bad thing. Just as desire. The problem is fire can be used to cause destruction, just as desire. This metaphor was appropriate.

Allusion

The poem alludes to the biblical narrative of the world ending in a fire as depicted in the book of revelation.

Irony

How can the world "perish" twice? It's ironic that the world would perish with fire, and then again perish with ice. Also, there's irony in the persona's stand. First, he says he stands with those who favor fire, then, he again says ice would suffice.

Parallelism

Fire and ice are on two extremes that can never meet.

Symbolism

Fire and ice are symbols of natural human emotions. Just as these are natural phenomena, desire and hatred are natural too. Both elements may cause the end of the world.

Poem Writing Prompt

Read this poem and let it inspire you to write your own. "Some say the world will end in fire/some say it will end in ice." Which side are you on? Which category do you fall in and why? If you don't fall in any, also write about the same.

Themes in Fire and Ice

Desire

Desire is a strong human emotion. The persona here compares to fire.

From what I have tasted of desire... (line 3)

From what we know of fire, it burns and destroys things to ash. If not it permanently stains them black. But where there has been a fire we clearly see the destruction it leaves in its wake.

Hatred

Hatred is a strong human emotion. The persona here compares it to ice. Hatred can destroy the world just as well as desire. The persona compares the two extremes of fire and ice in terms of their destructive power saying that fire will end the world but also ice is great for destruction.

The end of the world

This theme is common among humans whether religious or non-religious. According to science, the rate of global warming is heading toward the destruction of our planet. According to various religious faiths, the earth will be destroyed in a fire as alluded to in the poem.
Related article: 15 Easy Ways to Read and Understand Poetry

The Tone and Mood of Fire and Ice

The Tone is Casual and conversational

The poet takes a casual stand as if he is talking to someone sharing his opinion about the end of the world. There is no seriousness in the poem, no call for people to change or strive to save their lives, but ac casual statement of his thoughts about the end of the world, as if he knows he has no control over it but since he can give an opinion he gives it.

The Mood is Resigned and Ambiguous

The poem shows someone who has no concern about how the world ends because he knows it’s not his choice to make. However, he also stated what he knows about human emotions of desire and hatred perhaps from his own experience with the emotions or from his observation.

The poem is ambiguous because it is not clear how the end will come. The speaker in the poem takes both sides as possible endings.

My Subjective Take

This poem can elicit discussions about the end of the world as we know it. Either the world referring to our planet or to the people. Taken literally we can imagine the end of the planet being frozen or burnt by the sun. If the sun stops burning then we might freeze to death.

At the individual level, desires can “burn” you and destroy you. Also, hatred makes you a cold person at heart because of the other negative emotions it invokes like anger, resentment frustration. I mean where there is hatred there is no love. Perhaps the poet’s message we get from this is of love. Keep loving each other and restraining your desires.

© 2020 Centfie

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