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Critical Analysis of Robert Frost's Poem 'Fire and Ice'

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Throughout history, there has been a fascination with how the world will end. In recent years, these debates have centered on nuclear disasters, global climate change, and general cynicism. The Revelations chapter was added to the Christian Bible approximately two thousand years ago and details a biblical vision of the end of the world. This is a subject that has been deeply ingrained in the human psyche for a long period of time. Between the present and the time of the authorship of Revelations, Robert Frost added his own ideas to the mix, resulting in Fire and Ice, one of his most well-known and certainly one of his most powerful poems. This poem is renowned for its clarity and incisive message, as well as its invitation to pause and reflect, offering a unique perspective on the end of all things. Robert Frost (1874-1963) was an American poet and wrote ‘Fire and Ice’ in 1920, it was published in December of that year in Harper’s Magazine, shortly after World War I.

Robert Frost’s poem ‘Fire and Ice’ addresses the age-old question of how the world will end. Fire, a scorching, scalding, flesh-burning evil, and ice, a cold, blood-curdling property, come to mind while reading the title. Additionally, love and hatred play significant roles in the poem, as well as in life in general. Frost employs tone, allusion, and diction to demonstrate how both fire and ice can combine to produce the same results when hatred or desires run amok.

‘Fire and Ice’ is concise and succinct, cramming a lot into nine lines, but it does not adhere to any particular poetic form. Nonetheless, the structure is intriguing, and the poem unfolds in three distinct stages. Lines 1-2 establish the antithesis between fire and ice, establishing the poem as a form of conjecture—a rough prediction of future events. Lines 3-4 express the speaker’s personal conviction that fire is a more likely cause of the end of the world. Lines 5-9 demonstrate that, while the speaker prefers fire, ice (hate) would be just as ‘brilliant.’ Indeed, humanity probably possesses sufficient destructive capacity to wipe out the world multiple times.

In some ways, the poem is about weighing fire against ice to determine which is more destructive. The form reflects this sense of balance, with the first two lines establishing the two distinct elements and the remainder of the poem devoted to a discussion of each separately. The poem’s nine lines are significant in and of themselves. Frost’s poem is believed to have been influenced by Dante’s Inferno, a 14th-century poem about Hell. Hell is divided into nine distinct sections in Dante’s poem—the same number of lines as ‘Fire and Ice.’

Each line in ‘Fire and Ice’ is in iambic pentameter (meaning it follows an unstressed-stressed, or da DUM, syllable pattern). Some lines are in tetrameter: lines 1 and 3-7. The remaining lines—lines 2, 8, and 9—are written in iambic pentameter (Howard, 2019). The consistent iambs, combined with the varying line length, create a lighthearted, conversational tone. This is part of the overall irony of the poem, in which the speaker discusses a grave and serious subject in an unusual manner. In fact, the poem sounds more like the speaker is debating something far more mundane, such as where to order takeout from or where to go on vacation. This sense of flow is aided by the meter. This, combined with simple vocabulary, results in a poem that works its unease in a more subtle but arguably more powerful way than if it addressed the gravity of the end-of-the-world scenario directly.

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‘Fire and Ice’ employs an intricate rhyme scheme. Indeed, the poem contains no end words that are not rhymed. The procedure is as follows: ABCABCB. By and large, the pure-sounding rhymes lend the poem an easy flow, which aids in establishing the poem’s conversational tone. Due to the meter variations, the reader is unsure when the rhymes will appear, but has a sense that they will eventually. This is a close approximation of the sound of light verse, which is humorous poetry. This is a component of the poem’s overall irony, which is established through the tension between the subject matter and the way in which it is presented. That being, a grave subject with a lighthearted tone.

Anaphora is used in the first two lines of the poem, which helps to establish the poem’s antithesis of fire and ice. Essentially, the anaphora is used to draw distinctions between two types of people. On the one hand, there are those who believe the world will end in fire, while others believe it will end in ice. Whilst the anaphora is frequently used to create a sense of rhetorical power, it is used here to downplay the gravity of the subject. This is because the anaphora’s actual repetition—’Some say’—is clearly conversational in tone. There is very minimal tone of a sense of panic or anxiety in the world ending. However, upon further examination, the anaphora represents both fire and ice. The anaphora is a linguistic act of division; similarly, fire and ice are acts of division. Whether by fire or ice, the world will end as a result of humanity’s collective failure—the incapability of individuals to see themselves in others in the service of a us vs them mentality. The anaphora, then, subtly foreshadows these upcoming divisions.

The second poem I will be discussing is ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,’ which was written in 1922 and published in 1923 as part of American poet Robert Frost’s collection New Hampshire. The poem is told from the perspective of a traveler who pauses to watch the snow fall in the forest, reflecting on both nature and society in the process. The poem contains impressive formal ability: it is written in perfect iambic tetrameter and employs a tight-knit chain rhyme characteristic of a form called the Rubaiyat stanza. As is the case with much of Frost’s work, ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ focuses on rural life and the natural world, particularly that of New England, where Frost spent most of his time. While ‘New Hampshire’ is a celebration of Frost’s home state and its inhabitants, ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ represents a different vein in Frost’s work: poetry as a meditation on a moment or object.

The narrator is hypnotized by the brief diversion from worldly responsibilities, which allows him a moment of peace. Robert Frost’s character is rooted in a forest, mesmerized by the snowy evening. For the readers, the woods are dense, dark, and majestic. More importantly, the poet creates a vision carved in natural beauty that elicits strong sensory responses from the reader. The forests are clothed in thick snow, which adds to their beauty. Since the narrator is concerned about finding his way through the woods at night when it becomes quite dark, he decides to get going. The poet also subtly suggests the existence of a human nearby, though indoors and unaware of the passersby.

The poem is written in Rubaiyat stanza style and consists of four quatrains. A Rubaiyat uses a chain rhyme pattern, in which one stanza’s rhyme flows over to the next, forming an interconnected structure. A Rubaiyat does not have a set length, but ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ is divided into four stanzas of four lines each, with each line consisting of four iambic feet or beats. This precise, engaged structure contributes to the poem’s sense of meticulous construction. In conjunction with the perfect meter and rhyme, the form contributes to the poem’s immaculate tightness, allowing it to be read easily, almost effortlessly, as a song or even a lullaby. This tone is appropriate and just as a lullaby frequently conceals a more complicated or darker message beneath its gentle melody, ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ appears to be about the promise of freedom or rest offered by the woods, but upon closer examination may also suggest the freedom or rest found in death.

The poem employs chain rhyme, in which each stanza’s rhyme is carried over to the next, forming an interconnected structure. The first, second, and fourth lines of each stanza rhyme in this case, but the third does not. However, the third line rhymes with the following stanza’s first, second, and fourth lines, and so on. The lines then resolve into one continuous rhyme in the final stanza. As a result, the following scheme is generated: AABA BCBB CDCC DDDD (Fine, 2019).

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Critical Analysis of Robert Frost’s Poem ‘Fire and Ice’. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 2, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/critical-analysis-of-robert-frosts-poem-fire-and-ice/
“Critical Analysis of Robert Frost’s Poem ‘Fire and Ice’.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/critical-analysis-of-robert-frosts-poem-fire-and-ice/
Critical Analysis of Robert Frost’s Poem ‘Fire and Ice’. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/critical-analysis-of-robert-frosts-poem-fire-and-ice/> [Accessed 2 Feb. 2023].
Critical Analysis of Robert Frost’s Poem ‘Fire and Ice’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2023 Feb 2]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/critical-analysis-of-robert-frosts-poem-fire-and-ice/
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