Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Fire and Ice

possibly a Burbanksy *note the artist's mistake: the word is "desctruction" not "destructive"
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.

-Robert Frost

Let me start off by saying... this is one of the few poems in my memory arsenal whose first few lines ocassionally pop up into my head at odd moments. The others are: (Turning and turning in the widening gyre / The falcon cannot hear the falconer; / Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold... from "The Second Coming" by William Butler Yeats, Much madness is divinest sense - / To a discerning eye - / Much sense - the starkest Madness - / 'T is the majority... from "Much Madness" by Emily Dickinson, and Ya-honk! he says, and it sounds it down to me like an invitation; / The pert may suppose it meaningless, but I listen closer, / I find its purpose and place up there toward the November sky... from "Leaves of Grass" by Walt Whitman.

So you can imagine my surprise when, walking home from the train station last night after yoga, I found one of my favorite poems plastered to the train station wall as if to confirm what I have known all along - this poem is special and must be read by all. I have a sneaky feeling this was an act of the Burbanksy himself although to be honest I am beginning to think the Burbanksy - if it truly is one person - might be a female.

The first time I read this poem was in my junior year of highschool when my favorite English teacher of the history of time - Mr. Vince (or Mr. Small) - reintroduced us to the genius of Robert Frost. Sure we've all read "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" in gradeschool, lulled by its easy rhymthic nuances and quiet imagery. But Mr. Vince had us revisit Frost (and all poetry and basically all of life) with new eyes - to come at it from a different angle. I can still remember him explaining to us that taken at face value, "Fire and Ice" could literally be about the Second Coming, the end of time, the Armageddon. That the world could end in literal fire (Big Bang) or literal ice (think Ice Age). But when examined further fire is representative of passion, heat and desire and ice is representative of its opposite - of coldness, neglect, indifference and slow death. When we are driven by desire, we are ruthless in our search to have, get, create, do - when we desire, we suffer because we become attached, greedy, selfish. Our world could literally end if we are all swallowed up by our desires and keep consuming, getting, making, doing, having - and burn the planet out of its resources.

But Mr. Vince also said that the poem could be read as a metaphor to relationships that end. When a relationship ends in fire with hatred, anger, jealousy, passion and rage - it has not truly ended because you cannot vehemently hate someone without caring about them, being attached to them or "loving" them. As Mr. Vince pointed out, the opposite of love isn't hatred - it is indifference. If a relationship has to end, Frost says he favors fire - burning out with passionate rage, with a sliver of love underneath it all. But if that same relationship ends twice, perhaps the better way to end is with cold indifference and a lack of fiery energy because that energy is quite exhausting.

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