What is the theme of "Fire and Ice" by Robert Frost?

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In this poem, Frost points out that humans will be the agents of our own destruction, one way or another.  He compares "desire" to "fire" and "hate" to "ice." Both desire and hate are represented by physical forces that could lead to our extinction.

We might imagine desire to be something like greed, perhaps for natural resources—oil, fresh water, natural gas, and so on—since nations conflict time and again over resources such as these.  Perhaps he chooses fire as representative of desire because of the wars we fight with each other when we want things the other has.  

We might imagine hate to be based on race, religion, ethnicity, or any other kind of personal differences that might seem significant enough for us to harm or abandon one another over them. Perhaps Frost chooses ice to represent this feeling or force because hate can lead one to turn their back on someone, freezing them out, so to speak, allowing them to suffer and die. The speaker does decide that he believes it will be "fire" or our desire that does us in. However, he admits, via a wry understatement, that our hatred for one another is significant, and so it could easily end us as well.

davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the main strengths of the poem is its ambiguity, which is reflected in its suggestive anticlimax. Frost expertly sets us up to expect a firm answer to the question: how will the world end, by the power of fire or ice? But there's no neat resolution here nor should there be. The elemental forces of fire and ice simply cannot be fully comprehended or contained by mere human speculation. Look at how their human analogues, desire and hate are so incredibly all-consuming and destructive. If we can't control our own emotions how do we expect to predict how the primal forces of nature will behave billions of years in the future?

Frost seems to suggest that the question is all rather academic and shouldn't concern us for a moment longer. We have wide experience of intense emotions and the human relationships they taint and destroy. Perhaps it would be better for us if we concentrated on our emotional lives and their consequences instead of engaging in idle speculation on the end of days.

dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The theme of Robert Frost's poem is the destuctive potential of hatred and desire.

In his poem, Frost explores with amazingly eloquent brevity two forces which have the potential to bring destruction to the world.  The first of these two is desire, which Frost likens in heat and intensity to fire.  The second of the two is hatred, which he likens to ice. 

In the poem, Frost examines the question of which of these two elements will ultimately destroy the world.  Although he notes that there are avid supporters of both possiblities, the poet himself believes that, in the end, it will be fire, or desire, which will do the job.  He closes the poem with an acknowledgement also that, although he did not choose it as being the likely cause of the earth's demise, hatred, or ice, has an equal potential to bring about final destruction.

filips | Student

Since ancient times literature has been the catharsis of the world, that is the way of purification. The end is a motif in this poem but the ways in which it should come are a synthesis of the poet's vast knowledge of cultures and especially religious writings of various origins. The end may come in different ways, but the theme is purity, return to innocence, appreciation of the basic human values. It is not desired by superior forces that we ,humans , to be ended , extinguished from the earth, but a purification is needed in order than humanity to continue existing as real , not in a state of degradation, which anyway, leads to nowhere!The theme is the sanctity of the human soul.