Critical Analysis of “Fire and Ice” One said, “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words. ” Four time Pulitzer Prize winning American poet, teacher, and lecturer, Robert Frost quoted this. Frost was born in 1874 and died in January of 1963. He lived in New England for practically his whole life, only moving to England for a short time to pursue his writing career in which he wrote many popular and oft-quoted poems. In his poem, “Fire and Ice”, Frost uses imagery, diction and metaphors to create the themes of desire and hate, nature and its meaning, and opposites.
Tom Hanson figures that the speaker is in first person in “Fire and Ice”. (Hanson 27) The speaker simply expresses an opinion instead of telling a story or receiving an insight. Sabine Sautter Leger states that the speaker insists that “from what I’ve tasted of desire,” fire is more likely a deadly instrument. (Leger 113) “At least a fiery end might allow one to derive a certain pleasure or satisfaction from the passion that leads to our ultimate desire. ” (113) On the other hand, hatred only leads to destruction too quickly. 113) Yet the
speakers wisdom is great enough for he knows that “for destruction ice/ is also great/ and would suffice. ” (113) There is no specific audience in Frost’s poem. The general topic is familiar to the readers of the twentieth- century literature, which is the end of the world. (Leger 113) It is thought that after Frost’s experience in World War I, his lines referring to “ice” may speak to the calamity and misfortune the world suffered during this period. (113) “Fire and Ice” Poetry for Students states that the poem does not have a pastoral setting. Fire and Ice 56) It is one of the very few of Frost poems that doesn’t. (56) The specific time and place in which the poem was written is unknown, although it first appeared in 1920. (56) In the short nine lines of the poem, you make a rare exit from Frosts “idyllic New England landscape” and enter for a short period a slightly more philosophical world of causes and principles. (Leger 113) The rhyme scheme in “Fire and Ice” is pretty exact and easy to recognize. (“Fire and Ice” 60) It is represented as abaabcbcb. 60) That means that line one rhymes with lines three and four, line two rhymes with lines five, seven and nine, and line six rhymes with line eight. (60) Bruce Meyer discovers that there is also meaning behind these rhymes. “Fire” is rhymed with “desire” so that we get that feeling of passion, “the destructive intensity of something that is both consuming yet sustaining at the same time”. (Meyer 64) “Ice” is rhymed with “twice” emphasizing his repetitions of “fire” and “Ice”. (64) Frost writes his poem primarily in rhymed iambic tetrameter, although three lines are in iambic dimeter. Fire and Ice 60) “Iambic” contains two syllables, the first unstressed and the second stressed. (60) “Tetrameter” means that each line contains four metrical feet, while “diameter” contains two. (60) The number of beats is significant in another way, however. Lines two, eight and nine all have two beats and they all make reference to ice. (Leger 113) “In the poem, as in the world, there is still a pattern to be identified. ” (113) The poems meaning is tied into its structure. (113) Frost uses the arrangement of lines to express a lesson regarding the need for boundaries. 113) Frost’s verse reminds us that we need limits and confines in order to be both safe and make sense. (113) “We need rules to govern, to manage both life and poetry; immoderation in Frost’s view, leads to ruin”. (113) Frost cleverly manipulates the imagery of the title, fire and ice. (Fire and Ice 58) In the nine short lines of the poem, Frost gives the possibility of two different versions of the same catastrophe. (Leger 113) The fact that the world will end is not questioned, only the manner of the destruction is yet to be determined. 113) Slowly, we begin to realize that the choice is perhaps not actually between fire and ice, but both fire and ice as the title states because neither hatred nor desire are necessarily distinct emotions (one can hate passionately). (Fire and Ice 58) Frost wants the reader to realize that neither fire nor desire is always bad. (59) Both are necessary in life. It is only when the fire is uncontrolled that it grows and consumes all that is around it. (59) The very vagueness of the opening word, “Some,” gives the poem a feeling of vagueness or speculation. Meyer 62) Saying that ice “would suffice,” or be sufficient, is a rather casual way to refer to the destructive powers it holds and it implies that such an event will not actually come to pass. (Fire and Ice 58) “Suffice” implies that something is complete or has run its course but it could still do more or could still be continuing in some way. (63) “Ice” technically ends the world of the poem. (Leger 114) Not only does it become the last verbal image, but the last three letters of the verse spell “ice”. 114) The ice of Frost’s poem never seems to go away. (Meyer 64) It can “suffice” because there is always something more to it, something preserving, chilling and imperishable. (64) In Frost poem, “fire” and “ice” are repeated twice for emphasis. (64) This is a gesture where the poet draws particular attention to an idea, or an image, almost as if he is repeating it in case the reader missed it or didn’t get it the first time. (64) “Ice” is rhymed with “twice” almost as if the poet is trying to let us in on his little joke of repetitions. 64) The repetition of ice keys us on that ice is the worst of the two elements because “it neither sustains nor consumes what it touches, but merely makes things inanimate and perpetual”. (64) “Fire and Ice” is composed almost entirely of aphorisms, or short statements that convey wisdom. (Fire and Ice 56) The poem expresses an opinion, rather than telling a story or insight. (56) As you read through the poem, suddenly, “Fire and Ice” is not just a consideration of how the world will end; it is also a stunning self-indictment on the power of passion within an individual. Meyer 63) In line three, the persona interjects with a very personal, experiential note: “From what I’ve tasted of desire/ I hold with those who favor fire. ” (63) Here, the poem shifts from being an overview of hearsay to being a personal statement of desire. (63) In a speech given at Amherst, Frost stated that “education by poetry is education by metaphor. ” (Fire and Ice 59) Note that while the central metaphor is expressed in the title itself, Frost does not fully expand his comparisons. 58) Even though these metaphors are not new or unique, Frost provides a somewhat “unusual perspective by the extent of the destruction he envisions”. (58) Only instead of describing the cozy warmth of a fireplace on a winters evening usually associated with passion, it is a metaphor or a powerful and annihilating conflagration that devours everything it touches. (58) Lawrance Thompson finds that when the poet carries his symbolism to extremes, the metaphor seems at first glance to have no analogy. (Thompson 123) The images established the details of a specific incident, and there is an apparent end. 123) Such a method of using the metaphor is a favorite of Frost. (123) What is both troubling and beautiful about “Fire and Ice” is how little it says while saying a great deal. (Meyer 63) This paradox can be challenging to the reader. (63) A paradox is a statement or situation containing apparently contradictory or incompatible elements, but on closer inspection may be true. “In this mood court where fire is weighed against ice, in this place where the instruments of emotional destruction are measured and compared”, Frost issues a perplexing question, as to which is greater. 63) The issue is not which, fire or ice, is greater, though the reader is left with that question. (63) The real question is no which is greater, but how great and resilient human emotions really are. (63) In order to illustrate Frost’s theme on desire and hate, he cleverly manipulates the imagery of the title, fire and ice. (Fire and Ice 58) Frost requires the reader to think first about the destructive powers of fire and ice, and then to relate this to desire and hate in order to understand the poem’s warning about the equally ruinous potential of unbridled emotion. 58) The poem is not describing the geological destruction of planet earth, but instead describing a personal apocalypse. (58) “As the reader thinks carefully about fire and ice, desire and hate, the poems theme becomes richer and yet less tangible. ” (58) The symbolic use of nature was a technique that Frost applied throughout his career to reveal insights into both society and the human soul through such ordinary images as a patch of snow or a stone wall. (59) In the epigrammatic “Fire and Ice” he engages the reader with his ironic use of nature in the metaphor, rather than attention to descriptive detail. 59) “Fire and Ice” presents an initially clear metaphor; on closer examination, however, the nature imagery encourages the reader to probe for meaning underneath the surface. (59) Robert Frost suggests that the intensity of human passion and the raw power of nature are eternal forces. (Meyer 62) According to physics, after all, energy is never lost; it is only transferred from one thing to another. (62) The use of opposites is both a theme and a technique that Frost uses in many of his poems. (Fire and Ice 59) In “Fire and Ice,” the idea creates complementary relationships between organization and theme. 59) The last line brings the two opposites together again, since either “would suffice” because of their equally destructive intensity. (59) While the forces initially seem to be opposite, both lead to the same set of consequences. (59) Either of these two polar extremes may be lethal. (59) In Robert Frost’s poem, “Fire and Ice,” he uses imagery, diction and metaphors to create the themes of desire and hate, nature and its meaning, and opposites. What draws me into this poem is how it can say so much in just nine lines and how it makes you dig deeper and read between the lines for its true meaning.
I love how it creates an image of fire and ice, how they are different and still so similar. It makes you sit down and think about the passion and hatred that consumes people’s lives. “Fire and Ice” reminds us that we do have the option of how we die, whether it be rapid and consuming like fire, or slow and stagnant like ice. Works Cited “‘Fire and Ice’ Robert Frost 1923. ” Poetry For Students. Ed. Mary K. Ruby. Vol. 7. Detroit: Gale, 2000. 56-64. Hanson, Tom. “Frost’s ‘Fire and Ice. ‘” Expicator. 59. 1 (Fall2000): 27. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. Abilene, TX, Wylie High School. 9 March 2007 <http://web. bscohost. com> Leger, Sabine S. “Fire and Ice. ” The Robert Frost Encyclopdia. Eds. Nancy Lewis Juten & John Zubizarreta. London: Greenwood, 2001. 112-114. Meyer, Bruce. “Critical Essay on ‘Fire and Ice’. ” Poetry For Students. Ed. Mary K. Ruby. Vol. 7. Detroit: Gale, 2000. 62-64. Serio, John R. “Frost’s ‘Fire and Ice’ and ‘Dantes Inferno’. ” Explicator 57. 4 (Summer1999): 218. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. Abilene, TX, Wylie High School. 9 March 2007 <http://web. ebscohost. com> Thompson, Lawrance. Fire and Ice: The Art And Thought of Robert Frost. New York: Russell & Russell, 1961.