A Poem by Robert Frost (1874-1963)
A Study Guide
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings..© 2008
Type of Work
......."Fire and Ice" is a lyric poem of nine lines centering on destructive emotions.
......."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.
.......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.
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.
Text of the Poem and Notes
will end in fire,
Frost appears to mean the world of an
individual—that is, his life—as well
as civilization itself.
Figures of Speech
Some say the world will end in fire,Anaphora
Some say the world1 will end in fire,Paradox
But if it had to perish twiceDante's Influence
derived inspiration for "Fire and Ice" from
"Inferno," one of the three
divisions of Dante’s monumental epic poem,
The Divine Comedy.
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.
.......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,
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