What is the central idea of the poem "Fire and Ice"?

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The central idea of this poem is that regardless of how it happens, humanity is going to destroy itself through its own vices; moreover, this destruction is so inevitable—if we do not change anything—that it is of no use to even get upset about it. The speaker reports that some people say that the world will "end in fire," which he equates with "desire." This could be desire for land, for power, for resources like oil or water, to make another country more like our own: all reasons that we might go to war, employing "fire" with gunpowder and weapons and so forth.

Some people, on the other hand, say that the world will end in "ice," which the speaker equates with "hate." This could be the hatred of people who are unlike ourselves because they are a different race, a different religion, a different ethnicity, and so on: all reasons that we might allow another country or group to suffer through our hate. We might ignore their struggles and allow them to perish, and someday the same could happen to us. "Fire," then, is fast, while "ice" is slow, taking its time, and so the speaker says that he agrees with people who say "fire" will be responsible for our demise. However, he ends the poem with an understatement that underscores its irony: ice, or hate, would more than "suffice" to destroy the world, as it is just as destructive as fire or desire—it just takes longer.

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A reader could state that the poem is discussing methods by which the world will end, but I feel that is too limited in scope. The poem is a very short poem, but there is more going on in it than a debate over how the world will end. The speaker admits that he sides with the "fire" side of the argument because he has experienced heated emotions like love and lust, and the speaker feels they have great power to destroy. The speaker also admits that he has experience with quieter and colder killers, like hate. He admits that the cold will work just as well. It is an interesting shift in the poem to go from an opening statement about how the world will end to discussing human emotions. I think it is safe to surmise that the speaker is confident in either fire or ice destroying the world because he has seen and experienced how those hot and cold emotions can destroy human relationships.

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One could argue that the poem's central idea is that it's largely a waste of time to speculate on how the world might end. The speaker appears to be suggesting that, whether the world comes to grief through fire or ice, it doesn't really matter. Destruction is destruction; if the world ends through fire or ice then there's absolutely nothing we can do about it, one way or the other. This is just one of those many questions about which we speculate to fill up our free time. Yet the speaker disposes of the question pretty quickly by drawing attention to the equally destructive capabilities of fire and ice and leaves it at that.

Although the speaker doesn't know—or care to know—how the world will end, he does know something about desire. The suggestion here is that we should concentrate on dealing with questions relating to our own conduct and behavior instead of engaging in idle speculation concerning the precise nature of the apocalypse.

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Ostensibly, the poem "Fire and Ice" by Robert Frost is about the hypothetical end of the world, with the speaker asserting that it will be destroyed either by fire or by ice. One could argue, though, that the central idea of this poem is that fire and ice are equally destructive, in their own ways.

We can also look at what fire and ice represent within this poem: the speaker says he "holds with those that favor fire" because of "what I've tasted of desire." Fire, then, here represents burning passion; meanwhile, ice is, in his view, also sufficiently destructive to destroy the world, a view he bases on knowing "enough of hate." So, if hate and passion are both extremely destructive forces, we might infer that what seem to be at first polar opposites (fire and ice) are actually far more similar than they are different. It does not matter how a thing is destroyed, it only matters that it is destroyed.

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