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Fire and Ice (poem)

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Fire and Ice
by Robert Frost
First appearance in Harper's, December, 1920.
First published inHarper's Magazine
CountryUnited States
Subject(s)Apocalypse, desire, hate
Meteriambic tetrameter and iambic dimeter
Rhyme schemeABA ABC BCB
Publication dateDecember 1920
Full text
New Hampshire (Frost)/Fire and Ice at Wikisource
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.

A reading of "Fire and Ice"

"Fire and Ice" is a short poem by Robert Frost that discusses the end of the world, likening the elemental force of fire with the emotion of desire, and ice with hate. It was first published in December 1920 in Harper's Magazine[1] and was later published in Frost's 1923 Pulitzer Prize-winning book New Hampshire. "Fire and Ice" is one of Frost's best-known and most anthologized poems.[2]


According to one of Frost's biographers, "Fire and Ice" was inspired by a passage in Canto 32 of Dante's Inferno, in which the worst offenders of hell (the traitors) are frozen in the ninth and lowest circle: "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."[3]

In an anecdote he recounted in 1960 in a "Science and the Arts" presentation, the prominent astronomer Harlow Shapley claims to have inspired "Fire and Ice".[2] Shapley describes an encounter he had with Frost a year before the poem was published in which Frost, noting that Shapley was the astronomer of his day, asked 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.[4]


Style and structure

The poem is written in a single nine-line stanza, which greatly narrows in the last two lines. The poem's meter is an irregular mix of iambic tetrameter and dimeter, and the rhyme scheme (which is ABA ABC BCB) suggests but departs from the rigorous pattern of Dante's terza rima.[citation needed]

Compression of Dante's Inferno

Illustration of 1587 by Stradanus of The Nine Circles of Hell from 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—ABA ABC BCB—he remarks, is similar to the one Dante invented for Inferno.[5]

Serio asserts that 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 say...").[5]


John N. Serio praises the poem for its compactness, arguing that "Fire and Ice" signaled for Frost "a new style, tone, manner, [and] form" and that its casual tone masks the serious question it poses to the reader.[5]

Musical adaptations


  1. ^ Frost, Robert. December 1920. "Fire and Ice," A Group of Poems by Robert Frost. Harper's Magazine. p. 67.
  2. ^ a b Fagan, Deirdre J. (2007). Critical companion to Robert Frost: a literary reference to his life and work. Infobase. pp. 115–16. ISBN 978-0-8160-6182-2.
  3. ^ Myers, Jeffrey (2001). Robert Frost: A Biography. Replica Books. ISBN 978-0-7351-0140-1. Quoted in "On 'Fire and Ice'" Archived 2018-05-18 at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ Hansen, Tom (2000). "Frost's 'Fire and Ice'". The Explicator. 59 (1): 27–30. doi:10.1080/00144940009597068. S2CID 162244195. Partly quoted in "On 'Fire and Ice'" Archived 2018-05-18 at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ a b c Serio, John N. (January 1999). "Frost's Fire and Ice and Dante's Inferno". The Explicator. 57 (4): 218–221. doi:10.1080/00144949909596879. ISSN 0014-4940.
  6. ^ "Fire and Ice". www.andreaclearfield.com. Retrieved 2021-05-07.
  7. ^ "Bio". www.andreaclearfield.com. Retrieved 2021-05-07.
  8. ^ Fire and Ice - Fred Lerdahl, archived from the original on 2021-12-14, retrieved 2021-05-07
  9. ^ "Biography". Fred Lerdahl. Retrieved 2021-05-07.
  10. ^ "Kirke Mechem - Composer". www.kirkemechem.com. Retrieved 2021-05-07.
  11. ^ "Kirke Mechem - Composer". www.kirkemechem.com. Retrieved 2021-05-07.
  12. ^ "'Game of Thrones' Author George R.R. Martin Reveals 'Winds of Winter' Details and More". Young Adult Book Reviewer. 10 October 2012. Retrieved 2013-12-24.
  13. ^ "Ghostbusters on X: "Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice. #Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is exclusively in movie theaters March 22."". X. Sony Pictures (which owns "Ghostbusters"). 23 February 2024. Archived from the original on 2 April 2024. Retrieved 2 April 2024.