Fire and Ice Poem by Robert Frost: Summary, Meaning and Analysis

Cover image for Fire and Ice featuring the poet Robert Frost

Fire and Ice poem is a simple one with a deep meaning behind it. Give it a read and you can see the simple and yet elegant construction of this short poem. The poem is written in a simple and direct language purposely which I’ll discuss later. But first, take 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.

About Fire and Ice poem 

The poem was published in Harper’s Magazine in the year 1920 and also in 1923 in the poetry anthology book New Hampshire. This poem, along with a few others, is Frost’s most celebrated and loved poems. The poem has also been used in pop culture as well. The famous fantasy novel series, A Song of Ice and Fire was also inspired by this poem. I’ll discuss how the book series connects with the poem in the later section.

A portrait of Robert Frost
Robert Frost. Image: Public Domain

There are two accounts of the source of inspiration for this poem. First is Dante’s Inferno and the other is from the astronomer Harlow Shapely. In Dante’s Inferno we get to see a scene in Canto 32 where the sinners are submerged in a lake of clear ice neck deep while they are in this fiery hell. This scene along with the similarity in the rhyming scheme of Dante’s Inferno shows that the poem was indeed inspired by Dante’s 14th-century description of Hell. 

Another anecdotal evidence is given by Harlow Shapley. Although never confirmed by Frost, Shapely says that it was a conversation between the two that inspired the poem. He said that Frost once asked the astronomer about the end of the world. Shapely told him it could be from the sun or from freezing in the cold space. A year later, he saw the poem published. While the source of inspiration is not known, the meaning is well known.

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The meaning of Fire and Ice poem.

This is one poem where you don’t need any analysis to understand the meaning of the poem. This is a poem where the delivery and construction of the poem has the depth, rather than the content of it. 

The theme of Fire and Ice poem is about the end of the world that we live in. This is implied to both the earth and the society and life in general. How the end would come is what the poet, Robert Frost, tries to guess. And you can see how he connects the two possible ends of the world with human emotions. 

Frost says that he has seen both Fire and Ice, which is connected with two emotions, desire, and hatred. The deeper meaning of the poem is actually behind the reason for the world’s end is not a calamity from literal fire or cold wind. It is due to human vices. 

Frost has tasted desire and it is connected with fire. Desire can make a person turn to madness, not caring about the world or the people in it. Desire is like the fire that will just grow and grow until it consumes the person and the world with it. While desire is with fire, hatred is with ice. This is the uncaring aspect, cold as ice, filled with the intent of destruction. 

Fire and Ice poem
Fire and Ice poem. Poem by Robert Frost. Illustration by Pranay Mishra

Emotions in the lines as well as the delivery.

A brilliant thing that confirms Frost’s genius is subtly adding depth to his simple poems that can be seen here. Though hard to notice, see how he has linked the emotions with the words used in the poem.

 From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,

Look at the delivery of the lines when he is talking about the fire. The intense desire of his, the enthusiasm to be with the people who want the world to end with fire. Not just that. This desire is so fuming, he even considers the possibility of the world to perish two times. The intensity of rage is similar to that of someone with fiery desire. Not only he talks about the emotion, he uses a similar way of delivering the emotion. 

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.

Look at these lines when he is talking about being hateful and cold as ice and see how the emotions change completely. From being full of destructive enthusiasm of the fire to being uncaringly ice cold with hatred, the tone of delivery matches the lines. He says that since he has seen hatred, the destruction of ice is also great and would suffice. So uncaring and hateful.

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A Game of Thrones and Fire and Ice 

George RR Martin, the creator of the fantasy novel series A Song of Ice and Fire, said that his creation was inspired by Frost’s Fire and Ice poem. While this can be seen from the title itself, there is more to see from the content of the books. The story is all about the fight between fire and ice.

The whole story in the series by Martin is about the destruction that comes when the two opposites meet. The creatures (Night King and Ice Zombies) represent Ice and it fits them well. No one knows who they are or why they want to kill humans, but they have this innate hatred in them. This is hate. 

A poster of Arya Stark from A Game of Thrones
Arya Stark from Game of Thrones. Image by Chris Curry

The other side is the fire which is represented by the Targaryens. Daenerys Targaryen represents fire (quite literally) and she is fueled by desire. Her desire to become the Queen and take back which was her’s. While she is fueled by this desire, she too has no problem in watching the world burn. What a perfect connection with the poem itself. 

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The Casual Morbidity 

The reason this poem hits so hard despite being a short and simple poem is because of the opposites. This is a quality of many of Robert Frost’s poems and I have talked about it before. You can read the analysis of Stopping by the Woods in a Snowy Evening and The Road Not Taken. Here, it is the casual morbidity that makes the poem so powerful. 

Frost is talking about the end of the world, which includes the end of him as well. But the simplicity and careless in his delivery is what shocks the readers. Such a powerful poem was written in such a small and simple way. The poet just delivers it, without paying any attention to the gravity of the condition. This is why the poem is special, this is why the poem is morbid and this is why this poem is casual. This was all about the Fire and Ice poem.

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