Robert Frost’s Fire and Ice is an astoundingly short lyric of nine lines only. But this very short lyric is rich with the meaning of depth and range. This, however, constitutes much of what is unique in Frost’s present poem.
The poem presents a paradox of human existence. This paradox, so intimately fused with the spirit of the poem, is symbolized by the very title of the poem “Fire and Ice”. Fire and ice are two antithetical elements and they present this epigram inherently.
The epigram is in the conjunction of two utterly contradictory elements. Fire burns, while ice freezes, yet, in the poet’s view, these two serve to destroy. How will the world come to an end? Some say that this may be by fire. There are others to hold the opposite view and assert “by fire’. The symbolic character of the poem is perceived in that presentation of the poet’s antithetical concepts.
The symbolic character of the poem is expressed in two material factors, First is a simple, common-place, exterior in which may be involved an event, a situation, or even a material action. Second is a deeper sense underneath that simple exterior. Some meaning of a serious sense with depth is given out through a specific matter or material, whatever this may be, that acts as the very symbol.
Frost’s symbols in his poem Fire and lce, as already implied, are these two antithetical concepts ‘fire’ and ‘ice’, He emphasizes both as forces to destroy the human world. In his language.
Some say the world will end in fire. Some say in ice.
He conceives them as possessing ruinous capacities and the world is helpless by heading towards its end in either of the two ways-fire or icé. The choice is strange and the result, inevitable.
Here strikes powerfully Frost’s symbolic suggestiveness. Fire consumes. To Frost, this fire is desire, restless desire, ambition, vaulting ambition, jealousy, green-eyed jealousy, and passion, insatiable passion. Man is never at rest from his pricks and pokes. He is consumed ultimately by his desire, ambition, passion, or jealousy as in fire. This is the symbolic part of the power of fire to perish the world.
Frost’s other concept is ‘ice’. Ice freezes, nip the germ of life at the very root and paralyzes the living world. To Frost ice stands for inertia, lack of interest or initiative, freezing of will, desire and liveliness. This is nothing short of death. So the world perishes in ice, too.
Forst, thus, symbolizes both fire and 1ce as the perishing power in the human world. What he, however, implies, rather than speaks straight, that any excess of either fire or ice is liable to cause disbalance in the living world. Extremity in any form, too warm or too cold, is disastrous to the core. This is also the observation of modern science regarding the growing threat of global warming or freezing.
Frost’s imagery that means images, drawn by word or mental images, evoked by the metaphorical language, in this short poem goes with his symbols-fire and ice. His imagery here is very much concise, a master-piece of condensation. The entire speculation of the end of the world is wrapped in an epigrammatic conceit.