Written by: David Taniyo-Ching
I connected with two poems this semester. William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130” and Robert Frost’s “Fire and Ice” both poets explore the theme of love. In “Sonnet 130,” Shakespeare goes against the way poets wrote love sonnets in his time. It was common for the poets to idolize their subject in a sonnet as a goddess. Shakespeare’s meaning in his Sonnet is to show love in the real human inner beauty of his mistress. In “Fire and Ice,” Frost expresses the theme of love through the idea of fire and ice or hate/desire.
The concept coincided when Frost wrote the piece in the 1920s. The scientists of his time believed the world end within either fire or ice. The poets in these literary works show the real sides of expressing love using real human nature like inner beauty, desire, and hate. In Sonnet “130” Shakespeare, expresses how to express love in practical ways with the use of symbolism, metaphors, and allegory; in “Fire and Ice,” Frost expresses the theme of love with the use of symbolism, metaphors, and allegory to represent the real human side of human nature—desire and hate.
Shakespeare first published “Sonnet 130” is 1609, and he uses symbolism in the subject of the poem— his mistress. It was common in Shakespeare’s time that a sonnet’s theme made out to be a superficial goddess with an idealized view of beauty. Shakespeare preferred a more direct approach to expressing love. Shakespeare describes his mistress in what she is not in the Sonnet. “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;” (Shakespeare 936).
Comparing that his mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun, is the opposite of giving her a goddess-like quality. Shakespeare instead starts to express the typical attributes of his mistress. “Coral is far redder than her lips’ red;” (936). In this stanza, the symbolism of coral being redder than her lips is again showing a comparison for what his mistress is not. In the first two lines of Shakespeare’s Sonnet, he starts to talk about what he believes is the expression of love.
He defines his passion for showing the importance of inner beauty. Shakespeare examines his passion for his mistress. It was essential to Shakespeare to go against the way poets wrote love sonnet’s in his time, and Shakespeare changes the sonnet game by making use of metaphors to further express the inner beauty of his mistress.
In Shakespeare’s poem “Sonnet 130,” the poet uses different literary elements to show how to express love— one that he uses metaphors.
Shakespeare makes use of metaphors to describe the inner beauty of his mistress. “If hairs are wires, black wires grow on her head” (936). This stanza is vital to the meaning of Shakespeare’s Sonnet. In this stanza, the poet Shakespeare continues examining his love for his mistress in a real way. The expression of respect for his mistress is as she is. Shakespeare finds the real beauty in his mistress’ hair that looks like black wires. “I love to hear her speak, yet well I know/ That music hath a far more pleasing sound” (936). Showing that music is a more pleasing sound than his mistress’ voice is another famous metaphor.
Shakespeare continues to shape his mistress, a real human being rather than a goddess. In the most mundane features of his mistress, we see the poet finding real inner beauty is more important than the unattainable idealized beauty of a goddess. If you continue to breakdown Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130,” it starts to show that it has many layers and that Sonnet is also figurative.
Shakespeare was an expert at layering “Sonnet 130” in allegory. There are two levels of meaning in the Sonnet. The first meaning was that his mistress is far from the “unattainable goddess” that readers usually come across in love sonnets. The second meaning is much more profound. Shakespeare shows his love of a woman who, despite describing her unflattering terms in the Sonnet, still loves her. That is the way the true meaning of love in Shakespeare’s world. “My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground./ And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare/ As any she belied with false compare” (936).
The last stanza is the most crucial line in the Sonnet to the second meaning. Shakespeare is expressing that he loves his mistress against false comparisons found in other sonnets. In his eyes, these misleading comparisons of love are not the real expression of love. Like Shakespeare, Robert Frost also used symbolism, metaphors, and allegory more than three hundred years later in his poem “Fire and Ice.”
First published in December of 1920, Robert Frost’s in his poem “Fire and Ice” makes use of symbolism. Fire and ice serve as symbols for desire and hate, which symbolizes the end of the world. When Frost wrote this poem, the scientists of his time argued that the world would end in one of two ways. The polar ice caps melting or the heating of the earth’s core. For Frost, the symbols in fire and ice have a deeper meaning to how destructive expressing the theme of love can be for humans.
Frost establishes the symbolism of light first. “Some say the world will end in fire/ From what I’ve tasted of desire; I favor those who favor fire” (Frost 944). We see that fire has a deeper meaning, a very human quality. As humans, we often give into the light of desire, but like Shakespeare, Frost has a deeper meaning in his symbols. “Some say ice/ But if I had to perish twice, I think I know enough hate/ to say that for destruction, ice is also great” (944).
Again we see that the ice as a symbol has a deeper meaning— hate. Frost uses his contemporaries’ arguments to create logos to show the destructive nature of desire and hatred. Even “the world” in the poem is an essential symbol of the human race— who could use hate and hope to end the world. In a few short stanzas, Frost also does an excellent job of also making his poem metaphorical.
In “Fire and Ice,” Frost establishes metaphors so the reader can find a more profound meaning. “From what I’ve tasted of desire” (944). Desire is an implied metaphor for fire. Both could destroy the world, but Frost likens desire as something he has tasted, a human quality that we have all given into as humans. “But if I have to perish twice,/ I think I know enough hate, to say that for destruction, ice/ is also great” (944). In this part of the poem, we see hate as the implied metaphor for ice.
Frost likens hate as a destructive human quality that all humans have felt. In the poem, Frost admits that he first holds with those who have tasted desire as the end of all humans. At the same time, if he could perish twice, he knows that hate equals passion. Both are destructive and could lead to the end of the world. Frost does a great job of using metaphors to explain desire and hatred. In the poem, love is a metaphor for the destruction of the world. Robert Frost was a master at layering literary meaning “Fire and Ice,” His poetry was also symbolic.
Robert Frost’s short poem “Fire and Ice,” is an excellent example of a poet layering different literary elements within the small poem. In this poem, the author uses allegory to get more of his meaning across. In the first layer, we see opposites of fire and ice used as imagery for desire and hate, which are internal struggles. Both are base human instincts that have real meaning for everyone. In the words of the poem, we find even deeper what this internal struggle means. “Some say the world will end in fire,/ Some say ice” (944). The battle of fire and ice is an internal struggle with our human nature.
We see this eternal struggle when countries to war, which we can use to compare hate. When Hitler and the Nazi party used hate as a propaganda tool for their hate machine, we see what Frost is saying if hate wins the day. World War II could have been the end of the world. You can liken fire to human nature to the desire of things— wealth, greed, and even cruelty, to name a few. According to Frost, all these things have the potential of bringing about the destruction of the world. Frost makes a good case that he is right.
The meaning of “Fire and Ice” becomes more apparent when you look at the poem’s use of symbolism, metaphors, and allegory. Humans are destructive by nature, and the world will end by fire or ice.
In both “Sonnet 130” and “Fire and Ice,” we see the two poets Shakespeare and Frost, explore love using symbolism, metaphors, and allegory. What ties these two poems together with the use of literary elements to explore the ideas of their contemporaries. William Shakespeare, in his Sonnet, went against the typical love sonnet of his time. The portrayal of an idealized goddess. Instead, Shakespeare makes use of the expression to define his love for his mistress— flaws and all. Robert Frost uses the same literary elements to examine the power of love with desire and hate in human nature.
Greed and hatred are so powerful that they could bring about the end of the world. “Sonnet 130” has had a cultural impact hundreds of years after Shakespeare wrote it. We see the effects of Shakespeare’s work today. Millennials are fighting against the unattainable idealized beauty that you see in magazines. The campaign against what the media portrays as the way a woman should look. The idea of desire and hate in Frost’s work has influenced the literary works of Stephanie Meyer and George R.R. Martin.
In “Sonnet 130,” we see a piece of the identity of William Shakespeare, as he favored real inner beauty over-idealized beauty. In “Fire and Ice,” we see Robert Frost as a man who could take the most critical scientific arguments of his time and show the reality in a very human nature way. Fire and ice is a part of a flawed human nature with desire and hate. Frost reveals that he, like all humans, is an uncontrollable force because we will always desire and hate.
Frost, Robert. “Fire and Ice.” Literature: The Human Experience. Eds. Richard, Abcarian, Marvin Klotz, and Samuel Cohen. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2016. 944. Print.
Shakespeare, William. “Sonnet. 130.” Literature: The Human Experience. Eds. Richard, Abcarian, Marvin Klotz, and Samuel Cohen. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2016. 936. Print.