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Monday, July 4, 2011

Number 206: Robert Frost "Fire And Ice"

Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

-- Robert Frost

Hap Notes: It may be an odd choice for the Fourth of July but I honestly could not decide whether to go with Whittier's "Barbara Frietchie" or Jeffers' "Shine Perishing Republic" or Whitman's "I Hear America Singing" or Sandberg's "The People, Yes" or Langston Hughes' "I, Too, Sing America" and on and on....all have their merits. I even had a brief thought of using a speech by Tecumseh: "Sell a country?! Why not sell the air, the great sea, as well as the earth? Did not the Great Spirit make them all for the use of his children?" So, instead I give you this poem by Frost because it's so very pertinent for any culture at any time.

Happy Fourth of July! The world's going to hell in a hand basket, as my dad used to say. (Sometimes he said "hatbox" which I always thought was charming and pretty. Sometimes he said "rowboat" and sometimes he said "on a bicycle." My dad had a touch of weird poetry in him.)

Again, do not take Frost's cleverness and seeming glibness at face value. He's saying something very dark here about greed and calculated indifference. He's also saying something very dark about the way desire and hatred can destroy your inner world as well as the physical world in which we live.

Hate is ice because it is cold, mean and as it ages, becomes premeditated and rationalized. Desire's flames start to consume and burn up all rational thinking-- we make rash decisions in the heat of the moment. So Frost isn't talking just about wanting and then rejecting love here, although you can certainly look at it that way if you've a mind to. Seems to me that the love and hatred one feels for another human is really all fire. The ice Frost is talking about is something far crueler and more despicable.

Remember that in Dante's Inferno, Satan, in the center of hell, is stuck in ice. Both fire and ice are featured in Dante's hell. The road to perdition and eternal damnation is through desire and hate. Frost was most certainly familiar with Dante. (I love reading Dante's Divine Comedy but I have to admit it's the "Inferno" that always takes the imagination most grippingly. Although, Dante admits in the Paradiso that his description of heaven is all that human eyes are actually allowed to see whereas hell he gets to see in all its vileness, i.e. fire and ice.)

It is slightly amusing that the author of "Fire and Ice" is named Frost, too, eh? I never think of him as paying this much mind as he wrote the poem, though. (One hardly ever thinks of their name as a word, even when it is one. How many times do you think of a guy making horseshoes when you hear the name "Smith" or how many times do you think of cupcakes and bread when you hear the name "Baker"? Just a thought.)

Here is where we have talked about Frost before:

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