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Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

This poem might be misinterpreted if the reader finds its violent imagery gratuitous. Ai’s juxtaposition of the soft materials and the man, who is low-key and caring, with verbs of force and destruction actually reveals the speaker’s adolescent confusion and hurt.

The onset of adolescence brings forth a variety of conflicting emotions that teenagers cannot articulate or understand. Male readers of “Ice” can become sensitive to the fact that preteen and adolescent girls find the onset of menstruation a dynamic physical change and an emotionally terrifying experience. The speaker resents her father for having no need for her, and for casually giving her away to a man who seems to be gentle to her, but toward whom she enacts a displaced violence.

She resents the blood-producing menses, and her anger compels acts of crushing and squeezing. Curiously, the first infant was a girl; the second, a boy, she does not harm. Like the bear’s teeth, this is an intangible detail in the poem. A child herself at twelve or thirteen, the speaker can be interpreted as saving her daughter from “the curse” and the boy for a later vindication.

The sexuality suggested by the obelisks evolves to a less threatening aspect as the speaker’s attitude toward the man softens. The core of distress and anger from stanza 1 through stanza 3 is nevertheless framed by the serenity of stanza 4 and the opening of the poem. Even her mate’s “.45 you call Grace of God that keeps you alive,” which enables him to survive and provide for his family is, after all, empty, making him defenseless and vulnerable.