Thursday, August 14, 2014

Discussing a poem of at least eight lines as to its use of poetic elements (as defined by Watkins): formulaics, metrics, and stylistics. Pay particular attention to use of meter and phonetic devices, such as rhyme and alliteration.



Robert Frost has always been one of my favorite poets. His ‘Fire and Ice’ has always stuck in my mind since I read it in High School so I decided to use this as the poem I wanted to review.

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.

               Though this poem is only nine lines long it is packed with literary elements that flood the read with emotions. According to Calvert Watkins metrics in poetry is “… the quantitative rhythm and prosodic system…:”  (Watkins 28) Frost’s use of varying meter lengths, iambic tetrameter and dimeter, of eight to four syllables along with the use of interspersed rhymes and assonance of “…ire,” “…ice,” and “…ate” makes the poem flow smoothly between imagery of dualistic powers (Miller). The rhythmic pattern for this poem follows “A-B-A, A-B-C, B-C-B”. Lines 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 are in tetrameter while lines 2, 8, and 9 are in dimeter.

To break it down the metrics further:

1] Some say | the world | will end | in fire, [2|2-]
Here we have two syllables per foot ending with a drop in voice

2] Some say | in ice. [2|2+]
Here we have two syllables per foot ending with a rise in voice

3] From what | I’ve | tasted  |of desire [2|1|2|3-]
Here we have our eight syllables however they are broken down into 2, 1, 2, & 3 in the foot breaks with a drop in voice

4] I hold | with those  | who favor | fire. [-]
Here we have two syllables per foot ending with a drop in voice

5] But if | it had | to perish | twice, [2|2|3|1+]
               Here we have another variation of our four foot breaks but with 2, 2, 3, and 1 syllables with a rise in voice

6] I think | I know | enough | of hate [2|2+]
Here we have two syllables per foot ending with a rise in voice

7] To say | that | for destruction | ice [2|1|4|1+]
Here again we have a variation on the foot breaks with syllables of 2, 1, 4, and 1 with a rise in voice

8] Is also | great [3|1+]
Here we have two foot breaks but the first is 3 syllables then one with a rise in voice

9] And would | suffice. [2|2+]
Here we have two syllables per foot ending with a rise in voice


Watkins defines Stylistics as “… what makes a verbal message a work of art.” (Watkins 32) The use of contrast between the two ideas of fire and ice also help with the rhythmic flow back and forth of the subjects (Lake). It gives turns the poems back and forth into “… a work of art.”

               Imagery and metaphor (Miller) are the most powerful tools used in this poem. From my understanding of Watkins definition of Stylistics it is Frost’s use of image and metaphor that turns this into a true work of art. By linking Fire with desire and ice with hate Frost is able to use the images of fire and ice as destructive forces. When I think of fire being a destroyer of the world I see atomic war, some sort of asteroid collision, our sun going super nova, or dramatic plant tectonic upheaval. It is something that is fast, furious, and filled with passion. Frost shows his understanding of human passion and desire and how it can consume us, even to the point of being preferable. It is very purifying. When I envision ice being a destroyer I see global ice ages driven by the careless unfeeling actions of humans reshaping the world around us. It is a slow endless death. There is a creation of duality here between the dichotomy between hot and ice, between feeling and unfeeling.

The use of the “world” can also be seen as a metaphor for relationships, not just the literal meaning. This gives us a view into how Frost might have seen that a relationship of too my passion can consume it in a blaze, while one of cold indifference and hatred is a slower destructive death. But you also get the sense that Frost did not believe that the two were mutually exclusive to one another by the end. You get the sense he believed that perhaps they were simply ‘two sides of the same coin.’

But something I find interesting is that Frost asserts that the world must end at all, that it is either or, not that the world might continue on through finding a balance. The idea that one of the two dualities must win out over the other fits into the expanded definition that Watkins provides when he says “… that theme is the deep structure of formula.’ He does on to say “… that “deep” theme is not so very far from “surface” formula.” (Watkins 16-17) The struggle between Chaos and Order is a theme that runs very deep in IE cultures. Fire can be seen as the force of Chaos since it is wild and uncontrollable while ice can be seen as a force of Order. I say ice as a force of Order because as an object freezes it molecules begin to align the deep the cold. While fire as Chaos can be purifying, ice as Order can be seen as a sustainer.




Works Cited


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Bonewits, Isaac. Rites of Worship: A Neopagan Approach. Earth Religions Press, 2003.


Corrigan, Rev. Ian. "The ADF Ouline of Worship: A Briefing for Newcomers." n.d. ADF.org. HTML & PDF https://www.adf.org/rituals/explanations/pre-ritual-briefing-2.html. 6 8 2014.


—. The Intentions of Drudic Ritual. n.d. 28 7 2014. <https://www.adf.org/rituals/explanations/intentions.html>.


—. "The Intentions of Druidic Ritual." n.d. ADF.org. HTML - https://www.adf.org/rituals/explanations/intentions.html. 6 8 2014.


—. "What is ADF." n.d. ADF.org. HTML - https://www.adf.org/about/basics/what-is-adf.html. 6 8 2014.


Homer, Translation by H. G. EVELYN-WHITE. Homeric Hymns 5-33. 2000. 28 7 2014. <http://www.theoi.com/Text/HomericHymns3.html#25>.



Lake, Susan. "Formula Poetry." 1999. Susan Lake and Associates. http://www.susanlake.net/publications/unit/content/formula_poetry.html. 28 7 2014.



Miller, Quentin. "Elements of Poetry." n.d. Bedford-St. Martin's virtualLit Interactive Poetry Tutorial. http://bcs.bedfordstmartins.com/virtualit/poetry/elements.html. 28 7 2014.


Unknown, Translation by THOMAS TAYLOR. The Orphic Hymns 41-86. 2000. 28 7 2014. <http://www.theoi.com/Text/OrphicHymns2.html#75>.


Watkins, Calvert. How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. Paperback.


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