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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
This poem by Robert Frost muses on the opposing poles of man’s destructive nature. It contains nine lines. The rhyme scheme is ABA, ABC, BCB.
Lines 1 and 2:
The Speaker sets up two potential ways for the world to end – via fire or via ice. If Frost had been a contemporary of George RR Martin, perhaps one might represent dragons and the other White Walkers. However, since he is not, we should probably assume the metaphor merely refers to opposite forms of extreme with the Reader able to fill in the metaphor on his or her own, or to take it literally.
Lines 3 and 4:
Here, the Speaker equates fire and desire. Desire and love often are expressed as related emotions. However, in an apocalypse, we might assume that a world-destroying fire of desire is an overabundance and out-of-control “want.” That’s not love but rather a perversion of it.
Equating fire and desire makes some sense. A little bit of fire is necessary for life and survival. Too much fire is a disaster. Humanity requires some desire. Desire motivates us to feed ourselves, to achieve, to progress, and to help others. Desire unchecked leads to a consuming greed and self-centeredness. Consuming greed can lead to oppression, war, and all of the fallout from those things. Fire is a force that consumes so the metaphor works well here.
Lines 5 through 9:
The Speaker then equates the apocalypse of ice with the emotion of hatred. Hatred is a virulent form of “not wanting.” It’s the opposite of burning desire. Hatred leads to human isolation, slowing down of progress, and a lack of achievement.
What is the point of this poem?
You might argue that Frost is claiming that humanity should keep its emotions within the Aristotelian Mean. Or perhaps he is musing that speculation on the End Times is a bit pointless. The focus of the poem is on the temperament of mankind. When gone awry, our temperaments might lead us to destruction. It does not matter how we arrive to that end, either is bad. We should spend our speculative time on endeavoring to avoid that fate. If humanity is not consumed by desire or frozen by hatred, we can avoid both the fire and the ice.