Fire and Ice

Fire and Ice
By Robert Frost – 1874-1963

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


About the Poem

“Fire and Ice” was written by Robert Frost and published in 1920, shortly after WWI, and weighs up the probability of two differing apocalyptic scenarios represented by the elements of the poem’s title. The speaker believes fire to be the more likely world-ender of the two and links it directly with what he has “tasted” of “desire.” In an ironically conversational tone, the speaker adds that ice—which represents hate and indifference—would “also” be “great” as a way of bringing about the end of the world. There are two reported inspirations for the poem: the first of these is Dante’s Inferno, which is a poetic and literary journey into Hell written in the 14th century. The other is a reported conversation Frost had with astronomer Harlow Shapley in which they talked about the sun exploding or extinguishing—fire or ice.

According to one of Frost’s biographers, “Fire and Ice” was inspired by a passage in Canto 32 of Dante’s Inferno, in which the worst offenders of hell (the traitors) are submerged up to their necks in ice while in a fiery hell: “a lake so bound with ice, / It did not look like water, but like a glass…right clear / I saw, where sinners are preserved in ice.” In a 1999 article, John N. Serio claims that the poem is a compression of Dante’s Inferno. He draws a parallel between the nine lines of the poem with the nine rings of Hell and notes that, like the downward funnel of the rings of Hell, the poem narrows considerably in the last two lines. Frost’s diction further highlights the parallels between Frost’s discussion of desire and hate with Dante’s outlook on sins of passion and reason with sensuous and physical verbs describing desire and loosely recalling the characters Dante met in the upper rings of Hell: “taste” (recalling the Glutton), “hold” (recalling the adulterous lovers), and “favor” (recalling the hoarders). In contrast, hate is discussed with verbs of reason and thought (“I think I know…/To say…”).

In an anecdote, he recounted in 1960 in a “Science and the Arts” presentation, the prominent astronomer Harlow Shapley claims to have inspired “Fire and Ice.” Shapley describes an encounter he had with Frost a year before the poem was published in which Frost, noting that Shapley was the astronomer of his day, asked him how the world would end. Shapley responded that either the sun will explode and incinerate the Earth, or the Earth will somehow escape this fate only to end up slowly freezing in deep space. Shapley was surprised at seeing “Fire and Ice” in print a year later and referred to it as an example of how science can influence the creation of art or clarify its meaning.

About the Poet

Robert Frost most likely needs no introduction, but in case you don’t know, he is one of the most celebrated figures in American poetry. Frost was the author of numerous poetry collections, including New Hampshire (Henry Holt and Company, 1923). Born in San Francisco in 1874, he lived and taught for many years in Massachusetts and Vermont. Frost is one of my favorite poets. The simplicity of his poems often hides a much deeper meaning. He wrote some of America’s best-loved poems: “The Road Not Taken,” “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” “Birches,” and one of my personal favorites, “Mending Wall.”

Frequently honored during his lifetime, Frost is the only poet to receive four Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry. He became one of America’s rare “public literary figures, almost an artistic institution”. He was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1960 for his poetic works. On July 22, 1961, Frost was named poet laureate of Vermont. Frost died in Boston in 1963.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

Thank you for commenting. I always want to know what you have to say. However, I have a few rules: 1. Always be kind and considerate to others. 2. Do not degrade other people's way of thinking. 3. I have the right to refuse or remove any comment I deem inappropriate. 4. If you comment on a post that was published over 14 days ago, it will not post immediately. Those comments are set for moderation. If it doesn't break the above rules, it will post.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: