The Poems of Robert Frost | Study Guide

Robert Frost

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The Poems of Robert Frost | Fire and Ice | Summary

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Summary

In considering ways the world might end, the speaker observes that "desire" would make fire the favored agent of destruction. Showing his typical ambivalence, however, Frost's speaker considers the power of hatred to destroy. Ice, therefore, is another likely candidate for Earth's destruction. The speaker doesn't feel a need to choose since either would "suffice."

Analysis

"Fire and Ice" was published in the Pulitzer Prize–winning collection New Hampshire (1923). Its last word, suffice, acknowledges an avoidance of excess. This moderating word seems a strange choice for the ultimate excess the speaker examines: the destruction of the world. This poem, a calm and careful deliberation on the matter of total annihilation, detracts from the seriousness of the speaker and the subject as a whole. It uses a peculiar flatness in tone that belies seriousness of topic. On the other hand, perhaps it shows a stoicism in the face of the end of the world for someone who has become jaded by life's tragedies. Most interesting, perhaps, is the speaker's firsthand conviction that burning desire can consume the world. Ice, or hatred, comes second.

Although the reader must be cautioned to avoid conflating the speaker of a poem and the author, this poet's life experience certainly contained sufficient misery to induce this apocalyptic conjecture. Frost contemplated suicide when Elinor White refused his first marriage proposal. Beyond that, his life's pain in the years prior to the composition of "Fire and Ice" included the death of one son at age four, an event followed within a few years by the death of a daughter three days after she was born. Trial by fire and ice aptly describes the life of this poet.

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