"Fire and Ice" is a poem written by Robert Frost. It was first published in December \(1920\) in Harper's Magazine and later in \(1923\) in his collection of poems called New Hampshire. It is one of his well-known and most anthologised poems.
Since the Common Era (CE/BCE), people have predicted catastrophic events that would result in the extermination of humanity, the collapse of civilisation, or the destruction of the planet. The poem, however, deals with the question of "what" would likely cause the apocalypse.
The speaker begins the poem by explaining two major viewpoints existing in society. He says, "Some say the world will end in fire / Some say in ice". There seems to be a debate about how the world is going to end, and one section of the society believes that fire would cause the ultimate destruction, while another set of people argue that it is going to be the ice.
Initially, we are made to think that the speaker is talking about the element called fire and ice. Too much heat can destroy lives on a planet. For instance, studies prove that life on Mercury is not possible because of its proximity to the Sun. Extreme heat on the planet has made the surface impossible for vegetation or life form to appear and survive.
Fires have also caused several devastations on Earth. For instance, "fire can destroy your house and all of your possession­s in less than an hour, and it can reduce an entire forest to a pile of ash and charred wood. It's also a terrifying weapon, with nearly unlimited destructive power. Fire kills more people every year than any other force of nature."¹ Being the most destructive of all powers, the amount of devastation and panic it can cause is incredible. 
Fires had a strong presence in most of the terrible wars that we have fought. During the classical and mediaeval periods (approximately between the \(8\)th century BC and the mid-\(16\)th century AD), heat or burning action was used in battles. With the advancement of technology, gunpowder was invented, which improved the effectiveness of weapons starting with fire lances and eventually leading to the invention of cannon and other firearms. Modern military weapons like napalm, flame throwers, and other explosives have direct ancestors in the early thermal weapons. Modern strategic bombing still employs fire-raising and other destructive tactics.
When talking about the apocalypse (the final destruction of the world), it is interesting to observe that some religions and mythology have predicted fire (but in different forms) to be the cause of the world's end. According to an article on CNN, "Zoroastrians believe that the earth will be devoured by fire".²

Hence fire, in its physical form, acts as a catalyst for destruction. The speaker also agrees with the argument that the world would end in fire. He says, "From what I’ve tasted of desire / I hold with those who favour fire." However, he uses fire as a metaphor here. He claims that extreme passion (or desire) is the cause of destruction. To quote the Free Press Journal, "the passions of human beings such as lust, hatred, greed and worry are vicious fires that can destroy the soul and damn it to suffer in the fires of hell".³
So, how are fire and desire connected? To begin with, both share similar physical traits: fire produces heat, whereas ignited passion/desire also leads to an increase in bodily temperature. When you begin to observe, one would realise that neither of them is always destructive. Fire, when controlled, becomes a necessity. It provides warmth and light, cooks food (making it more edible), and is used for technological development. As Professor Jonathan Charteris- Black writes, "controlled fire is therefore a source of physical comfort and cognitive development".⁴  It only becomes a destructive force only when it is manipulated and uncontrolled.
Similarly, uncontrolled and unjustifiable desires can result in catastrophic events. For instance, imperialism is one of the primary reasons why battles are fought. It is worth noting that the poem was published only a couple of years after the end of World War 1. The speaker writes, "from what I’ve tasted of desire", suggesting the after-effects of the war was still fresh inside him—the desire for power and to conquer led to a war of such magnitude. So, the speaker feels certain that the desire, as strong, wild, manipulative, and uncontrollable as fire, can cause the world to end.
In lines five to nine, the speaker explains how "ice" could also be a potentially destructive element. To summarise, the speaker states that 'ice would be great and sufficient to destroy a world if it had to be destroyed twice'.
Life can be built or sustained only in moderate climates. We had seen previously how life on Mercury wasn't possible because of the heat. Similarly, life on colder planets is improbable. But we don’t have to go out into the space to demonstrate that; we know how winter doesn't support life as much as the other seasons do.
Speaking of how ice could be destructive, it is to be noted that it stands second to “fire”. The speaker is confident that it is the fire that is going to destroy the world. Ice can be harmful, but the speaker feels it may not be as malignant as fire.
Let us think of two scenarios:
  • Being trapped in a room that caught fire
  • Being trapped in a walk-in refrigerator
Between the two scenarios, the survival rate is better in the second. Fire will spread faster and can kill you instantly. Since ice gives you a slower death, you might be able to find time to save yourselves.
History has shown us how destructive ice can become. Studies show us that during the last ice age, “roughly about \(35\) different types of large mammals went extinct”, although there is no evidence proving that the ice destroyed the species. But what is evident is the fact that the homo sapiens (early humans) and several other live forms survived and evolved. Hence, ice might have destroyed some species, but it certainly couldn’t destroy the world.
Nevertheless, the speaker is not addressing ice in its literal sense. As seen previously with fire, ice also is used as a metaphor in the poem. The line “I think I know enough of hate” reveals that ice embodies the negative emotion of hate.
As the previous stanza shows, uncontrolled and unreasonable desire can cause an apocalypse. But, if the world somehow survives the catastrophe, this mentalvenom known as hate could easily poison the world to death.
Hatred can also be considered a highly contagious disease. Hatred is the root of a sizable part of violence around the globe. There are countless reasons why people dislike one another, including their class, gender, position in the community, authority, religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, creed, customs, nationality, political views, and physical or imagined characteristics. And many people who are the focus of hatred turn on their persecutors and commit acts of violence in retaliation. So, hatred is a destructive force strong enough to destroy the world.