Saturday, April 18, 2009

"Fire and Ice" by Robert Frost

In the bookstore where I used to work, there was a tangible hierarchy of books. General fiction was fine, as long as you stayed away from erotica (Zane), novels with incredibly embarrassing covers/ titles (Thong on Fire was a personal favorite for us to mock), or chick lit. We also took a perverse pleasure in the romance novel section, for it provided us with hours of entertainment (those descriptions! those titles! those covers!) and some of us even enjoyed reading them in secret. However, the most despised books had to be the Left Behind series, which offers an interpretation of the end of the world.

For my money, Robert Frost's "Fire and Ice" offers a much more interesting and succinct version of what might happen at the end of time.

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.

Although it lacks the unforgivable length, overt fear-mongering tactics, and intense sanctimoniousness of the Left Behind series, Frost's vision of the apocalypse is actually just as bleak as anything Kirk Cameron could ever transfer to the small screen. Unlike the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments of other end of the world scenarios, Frost takes a much more understated and sardonic tone. From these brief lines, you get the feeling that the speaker couldn't really care less how (or possibly even if) the world ended. Fire or ice - the end result doesn't matter.

However, on another level, Frost invites the reader to make his or her own connections and conclusions. Do we want the end to be fire and brimstone, not unlike the apocalyptic visions carefully provided for us in many a sermon? Or do we want an ice age where everything dies out? Furthermore, just what do fire and ice stand for? Are they, as this column argues, symbols for good and evil? Or do they mean passion/ anger and apathy?

If all of these questions makes you have flashbacks to English class, you can always listen to this classic from REM while you ponder Frost's brilliance.