Fire and Ice (poem)

Fire and Ice (poem)

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"Fire and Ice" is one of Robert Frost
Robert Frost
Robert Lee Frost was an American poet. He is highly regarded for his realistic depictions of rural life and his command of American colloquial speech. His work frequently employed settings from rural life in New England in the early twentieth century, using them to examine complex social and...

's most popular poems, published in December 1920
1920 in poetry
— Opening and closing lines of The Second Coming by W. B. Yeats, first published this yearNationality words link to articles with information on the nation's poetry or literature .-Events:...

 in Harper's Magazine
Harper's Magazine
Harper's Magazine is a monthly magazine of literature, politics, culture, finance, and the arts, with a generally left-wing perspective. It is the second-oldest continuously published monthly magazine in the U.S. . The current editor is Ellen Rosenbush, who replaced Roger Hodge in January 2010...

and in 1923
1923 in poetry
-- From Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening", first published this year in his collection New HampshireNationality words link to articles with information on the nation's poetry or literature .-Events:...

 in his Pulitzer-prize winning book New Hampshire
New Hampshire (book)
New Hampshire is a 1923 Pulitzer Prize-winning volume of poems written by Robert Frost. The book included several of Frost's most well-known poems, including "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening", "Nothing Gold Can Stay" and "Fire and Ice". Illustrations for the collection were provided by...

. It discusses the end of the world
Eschatology is a part of theology, philosophy, and futurology concerned with what are believed to be the final events in history, or the ultimate destiny of humanity, commonly referred to as the end of the world or the World to Come...

, likening the elemental force of fire
Fire is the rapid oxidation of a material in the chemical process of combustion, releasing heat, light, and various reaction products. Slower oxidative processes like rusting or digestion are not included by this definition....

 with the emotion of desire, and ice
Ice is water frozen into the solid state. Usually ice is the phase known as ice Ih, which is the most abundant of the varying solid phases on the Earth's surface. It can appear transparent or opaque bluish-white color, depending on the presence of impurities or air inclusions...

 with hate. It is one of Frost's best-known and most anthologized poems.


Some say(citation needed) 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.


According to one of Frost's biographers, "Fire and Ice" was inspired by a passage in Canto 32 of Dante's Inferno
Inferno (Dante)
Inferno is the first part of Dante Alighieri's 14th-century epic poem Divine Comedy. It is followed by Purgatorio and Paradiso. It is an allegory telling of the journey of Dante through what is largely the medieval concept of Hell, guided by the Roman poet Virgil. In the poem, Hell is depicted as...

, in which the worst offenders of hell
In many religious traditions, a hell is a place of suffering and punishment in the afterlife. Religions with a linear divine history often depict hells as endless. Religions with a cyclic history often depict a hell as an intermediary period between incarnations...

, the traitors, are submerged, while in a fiery hell, up to their necks in ice: "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 an anecdote he recounted in 1960 in a "Science and the Arts" presentation, prominent astronomer Harlow Shapley
Harlow Shapley
Harlow Shapley was an American astronomer.-Career:He was born on a farm in Nashville, Missouri, and dropped out of school with only the equivalent of a fifth-grade education...

 claims to have inspired "Fire and Ice". Shapley describes an encounter he had with Robert Frost a year before the poem was published in which Frost, noting that Shapley was the astronomer of his day, asks him how the world will 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.

Style and structure

It is written in a single 9-line stanza
In poetry, a stanza is a unit within a larger poem. In modern poetry, the term is often equivalent with strophe; in popular vocal music, a stanza is typically referred to as a "verse"...

, which greatly narrows in the last two lines. The poem's meter is an irregular mix of iambic tetrameter
Tetrameter: [ti'tramitə]; te·tram·e·ter; a verse of four measuresOrigin: early 17th century : from late Latin tetrametrus, originally neuter from Greek tetrametros 'having four measures,' from tetra- 'four' + metron 'measure'....

 and dimeter
In poetry, a dimeter is a metrical line of verse with two feet. Consider Thomas Hood's "Bridge of Sighs:"In poetry, a dimeter is a metrical line of verse with two feet. Consider Thomas Hood's "Bridge of Sighs:"...

, and the rhyme scheme (which is ABAABCBCB) also follows no regular pattern.


Marveled at for its compactness, "Fire and Ice" signaled for Frost "a new style, tone, manner, [and] form". Its casual tone masks the serious question it poses to the reader.

Compression of Dante's Inferno

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. Additionally, the rhyme scheme
Rhyme scheme
A rhyme scheme is the pattern of rhyme between lines of a poem or song. It is usually referred to by using letters to indicate which lines rhyme. In other words, it is the pattern of end rhymes or lines...

, ABA-ABC-BCB, he remarks, is similar to the one Dante invented for Inferno.

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 know...").