“They didn’t educate me when I was young — The doctor said I was delicate and wouldn’t live long.”
These are the words of Robert Lee Frost, America’s finest poet, who lived to be 88 years old. He was a farmer, mill hand, teacher and poet. Since he only went to college for two years, some said he was uneducated; although he was honored with over 40 honorary college degrees and won four Pulitzer Prizes for his poetry. On Jan. 20, 1961, he even stood in front of our Capitol and launched the Presidency of John F. Kennedy with his reading of his poem, “The Gift Outright.”
Robert Frost died two years later on Jan. 29, 1963; and President Kennedy was assassinated 10 months after Frost’s death on Nov. 22, 1963. Frost had written another poem in 1920 in Harper’s Magazine that seems as prophetic in the 1960s as it does in today’s world.
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.
The first reaction of most readers to “Fire and Ice” is that Frost is saying that the world will end in one of two cataclysmic events. Today’s readers may envision fire as the destruction of the world by a nuclear holocaust, where the very air we breathe could be ignited. But Frost was writing in 1920, and the big nuclear bombs weren’t even on the drawing boards yet.
The destruction of the world from ice was already a possibility in the minds of men in the 1920s. The volcanic eruptions of Mount Tambora in Indonesia in 1815 and of Krakatoa in 1883 had already thrown tons of debris into the atmosphere and blown them around the world, preventing sunlight from reaching the surface and causing year-around winter in many areas of the world. Frosts and freezes were recorded as far south as the Carolinas in midsummer, and heavy snows in the northern states destroyed growing seasons for two years.
Then Frost reveals to the reader that he is using fire and ice symbolically, not literally. Fire is “desire” and ice is “hate.” Frost is saying that nature will not end it all, but that the nature of man will likely bring an end to this world.
Desire-fire seems to be a major motivation in our business world today. CEOs and other business leaders can’t accumulate enough money for themselves, even if their desires destroy their businesses and the jobs of their workers. Millionaires and billionaires aren’t even satisfied with their accumulated wealth. Many of them desire the fame of being government leaders and are willing to use the power of their wealth to buy government positions.
But, as Frost reminds us, ice-hate is also great in the nature of man and could destroy our world as well. Only 10 months after Frost’s death, hate destroyed the life of Kennedy, the President he helped to inaugurate in1961.
Today, in our country, it seems that it is not enough to hate our enemies in foreign countries. We have to hate individuals or groups of our fellow Americans, just because they are different. Then, we must validate our hate with our own interpretations of our religious beliefs in a country that wants to be known for its religious toleration.
Robert Frost was probably right, way back in 1920, when he predicted that our world would not end from nature’s fire and ice, but from desire and hate, the nature of mankind.
Loyd Hoke is a graduate of Bunker Hill High School and Lenoir-Rhyne University. He taught English at St. Stephens High for 33 years. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.