and Ice" is a
nine lines centering on destructive emotions.
and Ice" first appeared in the December 1920 issue
In 1923, it appeared in New Hampshire, a
collection of Frost's poems
published in New York by Henry Holt & Co.
wrote "Fire and Ice" in iambic
(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
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
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.
of the Poem and Notes
will end in fire,
Some say in
I've tasted of
I hold with
those who favor
But if it
had to perish
I think I
know enough of
To say that
Frost appears to mean the world of an
individual—that is, his life—as well
as civilization itself.
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.
"Dante's Influence," below.
that the word suffice contains the word
say the world
will end in
say in ice.
with those who
say the world1
will end in fire,
say in ice.
if it had to
derived inspiration for "Fire and Ice" from
"Inferno," one of the three
divisions of Dante’s monumental epic poem,
The Divine Comedy.
"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.)
poem contains nine lines, an apparent representation
of the nine circles
of Dante's hell.
"Fire and Ice" a Great Poem?
noted above under "Dante's Influence," Frost's poem
alludes to Dante's
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
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.
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
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.
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,
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
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.
Questions and Writing Topics
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
In an essay, discuss public figures whose
uncontrolled desire for drugs
or alcohol ruined their lives and/or the lives of
Is it possible that terrorists driven by hatred
could destroy a civilization
or even end the world?
What is the main cause of hatred?
a poem based on the theme of "Fire and Ice."