Fire and Ice is a short poem by Robert Frost. Despite being short and simple, the poem packs a lot of punch with its meaning and symbolism. Many subtleties are often missed, owing to the apparent simplicity of the poem. Fire and Ice symbolism is difficult to find but it represents many important things about the world and human nature.
The Fire and Ice poem will be added below for reference. This poem symbolizes the two opposite human emotions, love and hate, and their destructive sides. The poem shows how both of these can bring the end of everything. Here, the end means both individual’s end as well as the world’s end. Let’s have a look at the poem.
Fire and Ice
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 say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
Fire and ice symbolism
One quick read and the poem speaks about destruction, both imminent and intended. The poet chooses two methods of destruction; either with fire or with ice. The two elements, fire, and ice represent two human emotions; desire and hatred. But why would Frost use fire and ice to be the representative of desire and hate?
This is because of the feelings invoked by the two. Desire is exactly like fire. You start with the initial feeling of wanting something. The spark has been ignited and it slowly spreads. Like fire, the desire grows in you, slowly taking up more space in your heart, consuming every other logicality. Within some time, like fire consumes a large forest, desire has taken over. Now the person wants his desire to be fulfilled, or else he is consumed with it.
Ice is representing hatred and nothing could fit better. Ice is like hatred, cold, and chilling. There is no warmth in the heart of a person filled with hate. It is cold. Cold is also used to represent lifelessness and hence ice shows unbothered nature. Hence fire and ice symbolisms fit perfectly by representing two opposite emotions with two opposite elements.
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What does fire symbolize?
Since fire and ice are two opposites, they must represent something opposite. But hatred is the opposite of love, not desire. Or is it? Desire is a form of love or more like a part of it. Possessiveness, infatuation, obsessiveness are the twisted, mutated form of love that is capable of destroying the person and the people around them, This is why Frost has chosen desire to represent fire.
Desire arises from love. You can never desire something if you don’t love it in the first place. But love cannot destroy things. It stands to protect things. Where love is like a warm glow of fluttering gentle fire in a cold night, desire is more like wildfire, easy to start and impossible to contain. And hence it found a place in Fire and Ice symbolism.
Personification in Fire and Ice
Personification is the attribution of human-like qualities to inanimate objects. Here fire and ice both are personified by giving them the ability to destroy the world. The poet gives them the motive to destroy the earth as if they want to end the world and the people in it.
The reason why fire and ice are personified here is to make them connect with the readers more, to make them feel their strength. These elements are personified to discuss the possible fate of the world. The fate of the world is to come to an end. But the way the world ends has two possible routes, either with fiery desire or ice-cold hatred.
Fire and Ice theme
The poem has a theme about the power of human emotions and our inability to control them. It is about the power of desire and hatred and how both these can bring an end to the world despite being very different from each other. The poem highlights the destructive aspect of human emotions and since humans tend to let emotion control them, the end of the world is most likely to come from our emotions.
Using symbols of fire and ice to represent love and hatred gives a clearer picture of the destructive power behind these emotions. Desire and hatred in itself aren’t that provocative since we encounter them every day. But once the fire and ice symbolism is added to them, they get a new destructive aspect and we get a clearer picture.
How fire and ice affect the poetry
An interesting thing about this poem is how the emotion that is represented by fire and ice changes the lines of the poetry. It is very prone to go unseen, but it is there. The fire of desire is violent, ravaging, looking for more to consume shows the incessant need to destroy everything.
In the lines; “I hold with those who favor fire, But if it had to perish twice”, notice how fire makes the desire to watch the world perish twice. This rage makes people want to see the world end again and again. But when it comes to hatred, things turn cold quickly.
In the lines; “To say that for destruction ice, Is also great, And would suffice”, you can see the cold uncaring nature. The idea of the destruction is taken such lightly. How the speaker would be sufficed if the world ended in destruction from ice. Such a grave topic met with such an uncaring attitude shows the power of hatred.
The message of Fire and Ice symbolism
Fire and Ice symbolism has a message that is often ignored. It wants to convey the destructive nature of human emotions and how it can take us to such extremes. Notice that for both the emotions, the poet mentions that he has tasted both the fiery desire and ice-cold hatred. He says that these emotions might seem harmless, but they can fester and turn us into someone who does not care about anyone or anything.
It is on us to keep things under control. It is on us to keep our emotions reined in. These human emotions make us humans and we cannot discard them completely, but we have to keep them under control. We cannot let them take hold of us, or the whole world will come to an end’ either from fire or from ice or even both.