Analysis of Robert Frost’s Poem “Fire and Ice”

Analysis of Robert Frost’s Poem “Fire and Ice”

“Fire and Ice” is a poem by Robert Frost, an American Poet, published in 1920 which was greatly inspired by Dante’s Inferno with allusions to Hell and Armageddon. The end of the world is the theme of this poem. Fire and ice are metaphors for portents of doom and destruction. This is an apocalyptic poem and its origins are both scientific and biblical, yet secular, leaving the true meaning to interpretation.

How will the world end? In fire or ice? That is the question. Will it be a natural event, manmade, or biblical? Will it be with nuclear warfare, an asteroid, or Armageddon? It is theorized that the Sun will eventually expire, and during this process it “will reach a radius the size of the Earth’s orbit” (Riddle). This means that the sun will probably destroy Earth with fire one day. On the other hand, could the world end from an ice age, a freak of nature if the sun burns out and collapses without expanding and Earth is suddenly flash frozen? It is common knowledge that “when stars stop fusing hydrogen, they undergo changes that will lead to their eventual death” (Riddle). It is only theorized that  the Sun will expand, and possibly it could just wink out into blackness and leave a freezing cold void for Earth to perish by ice.

Desire and hate are specifically emotions of humankind and this means there would have to be sentient thought and intentional action to bring about the destruction of Earth and excludes any natural disaster as part of the meaning of the poem. “From what I’ve tasted of desire / I hold with those who favor fire” (Frost). Consequently, this statement clearly shows that Frost believes fire is the better method for the destruction of the world. Also, how does desire taste? Is it bitter, sweet, sour? Is this taste a memory or experience from something unpleasant? Will humanity self-destruct from desire? In the Buddhist philosophy desire is what keeps the soul in eternal anguish and suffering and it is only when this emotion is completely eliminated, resulting in a total lack of desire when all wishes are fulfilled, that one can truly reach Nirvana. It may be summarized that “Nirvāṇa is the absence, the destruction, of suffering” (Welbon). Is it conceivable that Robert Frost, although somewhat of a secularist, is saying that it is impossible to eliminate desire as the Buddhists believe, and that the base nature of mankind will ultimately result in self-destruction?

Fire and ice are symbolic and represent opposing extremes; they also are incompatible opposites that cannot destroy the world at the same time, hence the statement: “But if I had to perish twice” (Frost). This shows that each method would have to be endured separately and there would need to be two destructions of Earth, with fire being the first, followed by ice. This is symbolic of dark and light, yin and yang, hot and cold. Fire and desire are represented as an analogy of human emotion that can rage into a fury and result in a tumultuous outcome, consuming and destroying both Earth and humanity with greed and corruption, perhaps resulting in war and hostility. Finally, Frost says “I think I know enough of hate / To say that for destruction ice / Is also great” (Frost). Death by freezing is a terrible thought, to think of hypothermia and frostbite, and the numbing sensation that would come with slow and agonizing death by freezing. Again, this brings to mind which method would be better? Destruction by fire or ice? Which is more likely?

There is also a biblical implication of fire and desire which could equate to lust, greed, and envy, which alludes to sin that could lead one to Hell. It follows that, hate and ice are associated with coldness, bitterness, greed, and wrath, which could lead to devastation of Earth that may come from ecological disaster due to the undertaking of mankind that creates an ice age or a massive forest fire that rages out of control and scorches the entire surface of the world. “The graven images of their gods shall ye burn with fire: thou shalt not desire the silver or gold that is on them, nor take it unto thee, lest thou be snared therein: for it is an abomination to the LORD thy God” (Deuteronomy 7:25 KJV). This is the root cause of sinful desire, greed, lust, and it seems to be where Frost gleaned his idea of destruction by fire caused by desire.

If Frost were taking all of this into account, it would seem reasonable to surmise that science shows the most likely way that Earth will expire by ice or by fire. It is a matter of the sun warming the earth and all creatures are trapped upon the blue marble at present. The Sun could possibly increase in size and energy enough to scorch everything and bring an end to humanity; conversely, the sun is a ball of hydrogen and helium that is in a constant nuclear fusion reaction that consumes the energy and creates heat, which could eventually exhaust its energy source and burn out, cooling down, and causing the world to grow cold and freeze. The Earth would certainly freeze if the Sun burned out, and humanity would perish rather quickly without a constant heat source to keep the temperature at a stable life supporting range. Robert Frost took all of these facets of man, nature, and religion into consideration when he wrote this poem, and he left it to the reader to decide which method is best, and what are the implications behind the symbolism, metaphor, allegory, and allusions to destruction by fire or ice.

Works Cited

Frost, Robert. “Fire and Ice.” Literature: Human Experience, Reading and Writing. 13th ed. 2019. Abcarian, Marvin, and Samuel, pp. 843.

Riddle, Bob. “End of the Line for a Star like Ours.” Science Scope, vol. 33, no. 6, 2010, pp. 70–72. JSTOR, Accessed 27 Sept. 2020.

The Holy Bible, King James Version. Cambridge Edition: 1769; King James Bible Online, 2020.

Welbon, G. Richard. “On Understanding the Buddhist Nirvāṇa.” History of Religions, vol. 5, no. 2, 1966, pp. 300–326. JSTOR, Accessed 27 Sept. 2020.

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