Welcome to the land of symbols, imagery, and wordplay. Before you travel any further, please know that there may be some thorny academic terminology ahead. Never fear, Shmoop is here. Check out our "How to Read a Poem" section for a glossary of terms.
Fire and Ice
The poem revolves around the two symbols of fire and ice. In the first two lines, we don't yet know that they are symbols. Judging by these lines alone, this could be a poem about theories of modern science. But when the speaker associates fire with desire and ice with hate, we know that fire and ice are symbols for human behaviors and emotions. But the poem does not close down possibilities for your imagination to run wild by telling us exactly what these two basic forces represent. You should feel free to relate them to your own thoughts and experiences and come up with an interpretation.
Lines 1 and 2: These two lines have a parallel structure, beginning with "Some say." This phrase is an example of alliteration. Fire and ice, as we mentioned above, are symbols. Specifically, they represent emotions like "desire" and "hate." But be careful – there's no reason to think that these are all that fire and ice represent. Desire and hate are merely examples that fall in a broader category.
Line 4: "Fire favor" is an example of alliteration. Both words begin with the same letter.
Line 8: The word "great" in this line means "powerful," not "fantastic."
Line 9: It is highly ironic to say that ice will "suffice" to destroy the world. "Suffice" is a word that has connotations of restraint, not excess. You can imagine a stern parent lecturing a child, "That will suffice, young man!" if he or she didn't want to say, "Cut it out!" But the end of the world is the ultimate example of excess and violence. The tone at the end of the poem seems almost absurd.