Steps to Analyzing a Poem
Your poem analysis of “Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost begins with reading the poem. It’s short. Read it several times. Then follow these
- Print out the poem. If you have a book you’re allowed to write in, then write it in your notebook.
- Annotate the poemusing the following steps:
- Identify the rhyme scheme
- Identify the meter and any examples of straying from the meter
- If the poem is difficult, summarize each stanza
- Circle important words, ambiguous words, and words you need to look up
- Circle examples of figurative language
- Write questions
- Write down insights.
- Draw conclusions based on the information you gathered while annotating.
- Write the analysis. The following steps take you through writing a paragraph analysis:
- The topic sentence should state the poem’s theme (one that may not be so obvious).
- The examples, facts, citations from the poem you’re analyzing should support your topic sentence.
- Provide analysis explaining how your facts support your topic sentence.
Any good Robert Frost poetry analysis begins with gathering data. In this case, we are led to the following observations and queries:
- As the title implies, “Fire and Ice” is a poem of contrasts, a poem of extremes.
- ice = hatred; fire = desire; a more accurate word for desire would be lust, which is often associated with fire; the problem is lust doesn’t rhyme with fire.
- Fire and ice appear in the title and are repeated twice in the poem. They form the central concrete images in the poem.
- The rhyme scheme a b a a b c b c b divides the poem into proper sections while linking the two. Line five is a pivot (similar to what you’d see in a Spenserian stanza).
- Meter - Mostly iambic tetrameter with a few lines of iambic duometer. The content of the poem seems ill-suited for the quicker paced, faster flowing tetrameter.
- “Favor fire” (4) is alliterative.
- The entire poem is an example of meiosis, or understatement. Specific examples of meiosis can be found in lines 7-9. The casual reference to dying twice, knowing hate, tasting desire, and other understatements underlie the poem’s speaker’s call for moderation.
- The happy rhythm of the poem belies the underlying message of destruction.
- Theme: the dangers of extremism.
After the data is gathered, you’re ready to write the paragraph. Following is a sample analysis paragraph. Feel free to disagree with my interpretation.
Poetic form and structure often enhance a poem’s theme or meaning. Frost’s ironic use of meter and rhythm in “Fire and Ice” underlies his hidden theme that moderation is the world’s salvation. Frost uses two extremes, fire and ice, as the poem’s controlling images, images which symbolize the two extremes of lust and hate. These two extremes, he expostulates, will eventually destroy the world. The rhythm and meter of the poem and the use of meiosis offer an alternative to extremism–moderation–and provides a solution to the world’s impending doom. Frost chooses the fast-flowing, less serious iambic tetrameter mixed with iambic duometer over the more serious, slower-moving iambic pentameter as a framework for his understated theme of the world’s destruction and potential salvation, a meter that brings to the forefront his use of meiosis: he casually states “I hold with those who favor fire” (4), and “for destruction ice / Is also great / and would suffice” (7-9) to comment on cataclysmic events. Although his poetic form contrasts the overt theme of the poem, it underscores its underlying meaning.
Disagree? I’d love to hear your own analysis in the comments (and so would everyone reading this looking for ideas to complete their homework).
This post is part of the series: The Robert Frost Poetry Study Guide
An analysis of Robert Frost’s poetry will enlighten and inspire.