Edmund Spenser’s poem – Ice and Fire
Ice and Fire
My love is like to ice, and I to fire:
How comes it then that this her cold so great
Is not dissolved through my so hot desire,
But harder grows the more I her entreat?
Or how comes it that my exceeding heat
Is not allayed by her heart-frozen cold,
But that I burn much more in boiling sweat,
And feel my flames augmented manifold?
What more miraculous thing may be told,
That fire, which all things melts, should harden ice,
And ice, which is congeal’d with senseless cold,
Should kindle fire by wonderful device?
Such is the power of love in gentle mind,
That it can alter all the course of kind.
Note: The poem above is the one the test used. There was more than what follows, and the words are not exact, as it was impossible to copy and paste from the writing space. I captured what I could with the snipping tool. I tried to write in word and then paste, but that did not work either. I know I missed a few lines in the copying. However, I believe the teacher will find the explication interesting and logical.
This sonnet is more broad than most in its description of love, which begins with the poet’s examination of his own love and expands to his wondering description of love as a whole. The poet contrasts himself and the object of his love, saying that they are opposites, like fire and ice.(line 1-2) He marvels at the comparison and the fact that they do not destroy each other. It is interesting that the poet chose such a constrained form to express his feelings about the immense power of love.
The sonnet keeps very well to the iambic pentameter, but the rhyme scheme is very intricate, almost like a villanelle, with rhyme patterns connected between stanzas. It follows ABAB-BCBC-CDCD-EE, a very difficult pattern to achieve. In a way the form, itself, illustrates the point of the poem, that the differences are both counter-generative, that they create each other, and mutually binding.
The poet uses strong imagery to excite and push the reader to contemplate the beauty of his expression and the meaning of his words. He describes his desire as fire and the object of his love as ice. He compares the properties of both of these and marvels at how they do not destroy each other. In the first stanza he explains that his love is cold, hinting that she rebuffs him. He wonders that the heat of his desire does not melt her iciness. Then in the second stanza he wonders why her heart-frozen cold (line 6) does not neutralize the heat of his desire which boils his sweat (line 7). The comparisons of fire and ice are really strong ways to talk about feelings. Man, especially the male of the species, seems to be forever caught by this paradox that the more he is rebuffed, the stronger his desire grows. The images he uses to explain and wonder how they do not destroy each other creates wonderful pictures in the mind of the reader.
The poet is expressing something which we see in literature, and even in life, over and over again, that the more the object of love resists, the higher the desire grows in the admirer. We wonder, though, as we read, about the futility of such a love, if it is not returned. In many works of literature, the ending is rather tragic, but the poet does not deal with the possible future, or even mention it at all. He is caught in the present contemplating the unanswerable question of why his desire grows in spite of the iciness of its reception. However, he ends the poem on a note of hope as he states that the power of love can change all of nature.