“Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost

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.



robert frost      Robert Frost, one of America’s most well known poets, was born in San Francisco in 1874. He moved to New England ten years later, after his father’s death, and started his career as a poet early in his life – in fact, he graduated from Lawrence High School as “class poet” and was published shortly after. Frost, best known for his regional style, often writes about life in New England, drawing upon his adopted home as inspiration for his work. In this poem, however, he sidesteps his trademark regionalism in favor of a witty, restrained inquiry into the nature of the end of days.

In “Fire and Ice,” Frost sticks to a colloquial, iambic structure, but this poem is purposefully ambiguous, its rhyme scheme untraditional. I find this poem to be incredibly witty – smug, even – which is what first drew me to it, but it’s also fairly complicated; Frost says so much in so few lines, and it takes several readings to crack the surface of his purposefully cryptic language and form. Though he writes “Fire and Ice” in a vernacular way, with monosyllabic words far outnumbering more complicated ones, the brevity of the poem invites the reader to seek meaning from it. There’s certainly more than meets the eye.

Some scholars claim this poem was inspired by Dante’s Inferno, as “Fire and Ice” draws many interesting parallels to the work. It contains nine lines corresponding to Dante’s nine-leveled configuration of hell, and its rhyme scheme mimics the terza rima pattern Dante invented for his Divine Comedy as well. The form of the poem, which begins with the longest line and more or less works its way down to the shortest, resembles the funnel-shaped structure of Dante’s hell. Though we often associate hell with imagery of fire and heat, Dante turns our preconception on its head by sentencing the Inferno’s worst offenders to an eternity in a frozen wasteland.

However, professor and astronomer Harlow Shapley claims a conversation he had with Frost, who was writer-in-residence at Harvard at the time, was the inspiration for this poem. A year or two before the publication of “Fire and Ice,” Shapley claims Frost asked him, “Now, Professor Shapley. You know all about astronomy. Tell me, how is the world going to end?” Shapley gave his scientific opinion – that the world would be incinerated, or that a permanent ice age would work to wipe out all life – as his answer, and “Fire and Ice” serendipitously appeared a year or two later.

As with all famous works, though, the interpretations of “Fire and Ice” stretch far beyond the scope of these two anecdotes. I think Frost is saying else entirely, though still profound: fire and ice, two elements we commonly conceive as fundamental opposites, have equal powers of destruction – we should stay cautious, as they might not be so different after all.

“Fire and Ice” was first published in Harper’s Magazine in 1920 and also appears in Frost’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1923 book New Hampshire.

To read more about the various interpretations of “Fire and Ice,” visit this link: http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/a_f/frost/fireice.htm

posted by Caroline Todd

“The Pasture” by Robert Frost

I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.

I’m going out to fetch the little calf
That’s standing by the mother. It’s so young,
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.

(1915, North of Boston)


“The Pasture,” Robert Frost’s introductory poem for North of Boston, is a vehicle to express the intent of his poetry collection—to provide fresh insight and clarity that may “rake the leaves” that mar readers’ present perspectives. Frost underlines this notion by incorporating images such as “clean[ing] the pasture spring,” “watch[ing] the water clear,” and a “little calf” that “totters” when its mother “licks it with her tongue.” The theme of rebirth through cleansing links these images—the water is able to clear when the spring is cleaned, and the newborn is cleaned by its mother.

Frost follows these images with the refrain “I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too,” essentially inviting the reader to experience North of Boston as a collection of poetry that will renew and refresh their worn souls. He is allowing the reader to accompany him while he actively returns purity to his surroundings, suggesting that this purity will also touch the reader.

Robert Frost was a four-time Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet. Much of his poetry demonstrates how he derived soulful insight from pastoral surroundings.

“Into My Own” by Robert Frost

One of my wishes is that those dark trees,
So old and firm they scarcely show the breeze,
Were not, as ’twere, the merest mask of gloom,
But stretched away unto the edge of doom.

I should not be withheld but that some day
Into their vastness I should steal away,
Fearless of ever finding open land,
Or highway where the slow wheel pours the sand.

I do not see why I should e’er turn back,
Or those should not set forth upon my track
To overtake me, who should miss me here
And long to know if still I held them dear.

They would not find me changed from him they knew–
Only more sure of all I thought was true.

(1915, A Boy’s Will)


There is irony in the dilemma of the adolescent; he is at the cusp of total independence yet is caught by the salient need for family as a foundation to stand upon. Frost exploits this ordeal in “Into My Own,” as he uses an adolescent speaker to convey the struggle of overcoming childhood and reaching adulthood. These conflicting states create a vacuum of identity, compelling the speaker to seek to come “into [his] own,” and thus develop self-recognition. This vacuum is emphasized by Frost’s use of outmoded language such as “’twere” and “e’er,” as it shows a young poet still in the shadow of British poetry and not yet confident in the American idiom. He has not yet come “into [his] own” voice.

Frost’s poem is in the format of a sonnet. This structurally demonstrates the speaker’s wish to retain his core self while cementing his beliefs, as the sonnet is a classic poetic form that retains its organization while altering its significance with whatever language is employed. Just as this alteration would not break from sonnet format, the speaker’s foray into independence would not incite an utter break from his previous self; instead, it would allow him to become a magnified version of who he had been, as evidenced in the final couplet of the poem, “They would not find me changed from him they knew–/Only more sure of all I thought was true.” The speaker would be able to transcend to adulthood as a man who has cemented his ideals and completely knows himself.

Robert Frost was a four-time Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet. He frequently utilized rural scenery as a significant element in his poetry, demonstrating how soulful interaction with the natural world can breed intellectual depth.