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Fire and Ice
A Poem by Robert Frost (1874-1963)
A Study Guide
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Type of Work
Publication
Meter and Rhyme
Text of the Poem and Notes
Is It a Great Poem?
Figures of Speech
Dante's Influence
Theme
Study Questions
Writing Topics
Author Information
Index of Study Guides
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Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings.. 2008
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Type of Work

......."Fire and Ice" is a lyric poem of nine lines centering on destructive emotions. 

Publication

......."Fire and Ice" first appeared in the December 1920 issue of Harper's. In 1923, it appeared in New Hampshire, a collection of Frost's poems published in New York by Henry Holt & Co.

Meter

.......Frost wrote "Fire and Ice" in iambic tetrameter (lines 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7) and iambic dimeter (lines 2, 8, and 9). In iambic tetrameter, a line has four pairs of syllables, each pair with an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. In iambic dimeter, a line has two pairs of syllables, each pair with an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. The first two lines of the poem demonstrate the tetrameter-dimeter format.

.......1...................2..................3.................4....
Some SAY..|..the WORLD,..|..will END..|..in FIRE
.......1...................2
Some SAY..|..iin ICE.
Rhyme

.......The poem contains three units of end rhyme. The first unit consists of lines 1, 3, and 4. The second consists of lines 2, 5, 7, and 9. The third consists of lines 6 and 8. All of the end rhymes are masculine
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Text of the Poem and Notes

Some say the world1 will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire2
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,...................5
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice3
Is also great
And would suffice.4

1...world: Frost appears to mean the world of an individual—that is, his life—as well as civilization itself. 
2...desire: Desire, or passion, is considered a "hot" emotion. Hence, the punishment for yielding to forbidden desire is fire. For further information, see "Dante's Influence," below.
3...See "Dante's Influence," below.
4...Note that the word suffice contains the word "ice."
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Figures of Speech

Alliteration

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.

I hold with those who favor fire.

Anaphora
Some say the world1 will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
Paradox
But if it had to perish twice
Dante's Influence

.......Frost derived inspiration for "Fire and Ice" from "Inferno," one of the three divisions of Dante’s monumental epic poem, The Divine Comedy
.......In "Inferno," Dante and his guide, the Latin poet Virgil, witness the punishment of souls in hell, constructed in nine circles—one atop the other—in the shape of a cone. Those who committed sins of desire, such as lust and greed, suffer the pain of fire and other tortures. (Note lines 3 and 4 of Frost's poem). These sinners are confined in the upper circles. Those who committed the sin of betrayal are confined to the bottom circle, the ninth, in a frozen lake. Among them are Judas and Satan. Frost’s poem substitutes hatred for betrayal as the cardinal offense that entombs souls in everlasting ice. (Note lines 6-9 of Frost's poem.) 
.......Frost’s poem contains nine lines, an apparent representation of the nine circles of Dante's hell.

Is "Fire and Ice" a Great Poem?

.......As noted above under "Dante's Influence," Frost's poem alludes to Dante's The Divine Comedy—in particular, to the sins and punishments of the souls in hell. In the "Inferno" section of The Divine Comedy, Dante places those who yielded to unrestrained desire in the upper levels of hell. He places those who committed what he regards as the most serious sin, betrayal, in the lake of ice in lowest level of hell. Judas and Satan are among the traitors confined to this region. However, in alluding to Dante, Frost substitutes hatred for betrayal as the offense that condemns its perpetrator to the ultimate punishment: imprisonment in the lake of ice. At the same time, he says hatred and desire are equally condemnable. If he is right, the haters would be in the same circle as those who committed sins of unbridled desire. One may fairly argue that Frost's substitution of hatred for betrayal distorts and weakens the allusion to Dante. Moreover, the reference to two different groups in lines 1 and 2 (the first saying the world ends in fire and the second saying it ends in ice) likewise seems amiss, for in both cases Frost is alluding to a single source, Dante. Finally, Frost appears to misfire when he parallels hate (line 6) with desire (line 3) as types of destructive behavior, or sins. Hate, of course, is destructive and sinful. Desire per se is not. There is nothing wrong with desiring a spouse, a better job, or a new car. What Frost is attempting to damn is inordinate and immoral desire—for money, power, sex, drink, food, etc. 
.......Do these apparent faux pas mean that the poem as a whole is not the masterpiece that Frost aficionados say it is? The answer to that question depends on how much license the reader is willing to grant the author. 

Theme

.......The central theme of "Fire and Ice" is that human emotions are destructive when allowed to run amok. They can destroy a person morally; they can destroy him mentally and physically. Not frequently, unbridled emotions—such as those of an Adolf Hitler—can destroy entire countries and even threaten to destroy civilization itself.


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Author Information

.......Robert Frost (1874-1963) was born in San Francisco, California, where he spent his childhood. In 1885, after his father died of tuberculosis, the Frosts moved to Massachusetts. There, Robert graduated from high school, sharing top honors with a student he would later marry, Elinor White. 
.......Frost attended Dartmouth and Harvard, married Miss White in 1895, worked farms, and taught school. In his spare time, he wrote poetry. Disappointed with the scant attention his poems received, he moved with his wife to Great Britain to present his work to readers there. Publishers liked his work and printed his first book of poems, A Boy’s Will, in 1913, and a second poetry collection, North of Boston, in 1914. The latter book was published in the United States in 1915. 
.......Having established his reputation, Frost returned to the United States in 1915 and bought a small farm in Franconia, N.H. To supplement his income from the farm and his poetry, he taught at universities. Between 1916 and 1923, he published two more books of poetry—the second one, New Hampshire, winning the 1923 Pulitzer Prize. He went on to win three more Pulitzer Prizes and was invited to recite his poem “The Gift Outright” at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in January 1961. Frost died in Boston two years later. One may regard him as among the greatest poets of his generation. 

Study Questions and Writing Topics

1...Uncontrolled sexual desire can lead to rape, child molestation, and the spread of disease. Do you think Frost had this type of desire in mind when he wrote "Fire and Ice"?
2.  In an essay, discuss public figures whose uncontrolled desire for drugs or alcohol ruined their lives and/or the lives of others? 
3.  Is it possible that terrorists driven by hatred could destroy a civilization or even end the world?
4.  What is the main cause of hatred?
5...Write a poem based on the theme of "Fire and Ice."

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