This short poem outlines the familiar question about the fate of the world, wondering if it is more likely to be destroyed by fire or ice. People are on both sides of the debate, and Frost introduces the narrator to provide his personal take on the question of the end of the world. The narrator first concludes that the world must end in fire after considering his personal experience with desire and passion, the emotions of fire. Yet, after considering his experience with “ice,” or hatred, the narrator acknowledges that ice would be equally destructive.
Only nine lines long, this little poem is a brilliant example of Frost’s concisely ironic literary style. The poem varies between two meter lengths (either eight syllables or four syllables) and uses three sets of interwoven rhymes, based on “-ire,” “-ice,” and “-ate.”
In the first two lines of the poem, Frost creates a clear dichotomy between fire and ice and the two groups of people that believe in each element. By using the term “some” instead of “I” or “an individual,” Frost asserts that the distinction between the two elements is a universal truth, not just an idea promoted by an individual. In addition to the unavoidable contradiction between fire and ice, these first lines also outline the claim that the world will end as a direct result of one of these elements. It is unclear which element will destroy the world, but it is significant to note that fire and ice are the only options. The poem does not allow for any other possibilities in terms of the world’s fate, just as there are not any other opinions allowed in the black-and-white debate between fire and ice.
Interestingly, the two possibilities for the world’s destruction correspond directly to a common scientific debate during the time Frost wrote the poem. Some scientists believed that the world would be incinerated from its fiery core, while others were convinced that a coming ice age would destroy all living things on the earth’s surface. Instead of maintaining a strictly scientific perspective on this debate, Frost introduces a more emotional side, associating passionate desire with fire and hatred with ice. Within this metaphorical view of the two elements, the “world” can be recognized as a metaphor for a relationship. Too much fire and passion can quickly consume a relationship, while cold indifference and hate can be equally destructive.
Although the first two lines of the poem insist that there can only be a single choice between fire and ice, the narrator undercuts this requirement by acknowledging that both elements could successfully destroy the world. Moreover, the fact that he has had personal experience with both (in the form of desire and hate) reveals that fire and ice are not mutually exclusive, as the first two lines of the poem insist. In fact, though the narrator first concludes that the world will end in fire, he ultimately admits that the world could just as easily end in ice; fire and ice, it seems, are strikingly similar.