This article was updated on 1 May 2023.
The torrid temperatures this April reminded me of a 1920 poem by Robert Frost titled ‘Fire and Ice’. Using the contrasting images of fire and ice, the beloved American poet muses on how the world will end. He speaks of the cataclysmic event in a colloquial tone, which makes the poem somehow more chilling.
Fire is an archetypal symbol of destruction. The Bible mentions it in a description of Doomsday: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.” (The New International Version, 2 Peter 3:10).
In his poem, however, Frost talks about the end of the world as resulting from human actions and excesses. “From what I’ve tasted of desire/ I hold with those who favor fire,” he writes. By correlating fire with “desire”, Frost seems to suggest that the craving for power, domination and wealth is behind mankind’s never-ending wars.
The analogy between ice and hate that follows is a bit intriguing. One would normally associate hate with fiery passion, but Frost equates it with apathy or indifference as symbolised by ice. Indeed, what could be more dangerous to the world than cold-hearted men who don’t give a damn about the consequences of their actions?
Here is Robert Frost’s poem in its entirety:
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.
Click here to listen to a wonderful reading of the poem.