185. Fire and Ice: Robert Frost

In today’s New York Times they write:

It’s the End of the World
According to some interpretations of the Mayan calendar, the world is scheduled to end one day in the next week. Predictions vary: it could mean that all mankind will undergo a spiritual transformation, or that the Earth will collide with a black hole or the planet Nibiru — in which case, there’s no need to finish all that Christmas shopping. Or maybe it’s just the close of another year. Whatever happens, here are six original poems on endings.

The poems are mixed (in my humble opinion), but worth reading.  You can check them out by clicking here.

Here is a more classic “end of the world” poem by Robert Frost.  There are several things a teacher can do with this, but here are a few that have worked for me:

Contrasts: Fire and ice are opposites, and kids often don’t slow down and notice that.  Just getting them to see the obvious is something worth spending time on.  Then, ask why Frost might use these two.  What other opposites can students think of?  Are any better than fire and ice for imagery?  Why?

Symoblism: Fire is hate, while Ice is desire.  Why?  If you created an opposites list above, try and brainstorm what each new opposite might symbolize.  Do they work better than fire and ice (doubtful)?

Cause and Effect: Once these opposites have been established, how do they see the world ending with each?  Fire is easy, but ice?  If you created an opposites list above, try and imagine how those might play out.  Imagine the world ending by boys or girls.  Scary!

Word Choice: I have always found Frost’s use of language in this poem a bit flip.  Suffice?  Also, he uses the “I” voice.  Why?  Is he culpable, or simply an observer?

Remember, don’t freak out your kids if there is too much “end of the world” talk going on–one kid’s joke is another one’s nightmare.  It can be scary (but middle school kids are also fascinated by it all, and it goes well with the slew of apocalyptic fiction titles circulating).

Fire and Ice
Robert Frost

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.


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