Fire and ice

Ed
Ed Smith
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Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favour fire.

Robert Frost's musings on the end of the world are cute, but totally wrong except in one respect: the world will end.
It has to. That's the way it is. Everything has a beginning; everything has an end. That's what we're told, right? In a few billion years, our sun will explode and burn the Earth and everything in the solar system to a crisp. That's what the scientists tell us.
What started with a vicious Big Bang will end with a vicious big bonfire. Of course, by that time we will have left this part of the universe and be living on Glimma Collabra in some far-off corner of another galaxy, and won't even notice that everything has gone up in flames back home.
Or the Earth will slowly - or not so slowly - poison itself so completely with pollution that in 100 years or so, it will be a cold, dry planet. It's certainly headed that way. Many experts feel the trend is irreversible and that it's only a matter of time before all life on Earth will be extinct.
In my view our demise will be neither fire nor ice. We'll be gone long before then. How? I'll tell you how. By some little germ too small for anyone to see. It won't be bacteria and it won't be a virus. My considered opinion is that it will be a cross between those two, but 100 times smaller and 10,000 times more deadly.
The only way we'll know it exists is when we're all dead, which will be a little too late to do anything about it.
Hundreds of years ago the Mayans, who studied the workings of the planets and the stars, stated categorically that everything will come to an end in 2012. That's uncomfortably close. The only thing comfortable about it is that we'll all go together.
On second thought, I don't find a lot of comfort in that. It's like looking around at the other passengers on the airplane to see if they're the sort of people you wouldn't mind dying with. They never are.
The Mayans even pinpointed the day, the month and the hour - Dec. 21, 11:11 p.m. Even today's scientists admit that on that day the sun will be exactly lined up with an enormous black hole that exists in the middle of the Milky Way.
No one knows for sure what will happen then. "Going down the tube" could take on a whole new meaning.
"Going to hell in a hand basket" has never seemed so appropriate as now, when applied to the world in general. I don't know if a black hole can in any way be equated to hell. It certainly doesn't sound a lot like heaven.
The black hole idea can't be Christian because fundamental Christian belief has some of us going to hell (no names) and some to heaven. The Mayans would have us all tumbling down that hole together arse over kettles, good and bad, saint and sinner.
There are all kinds of other ways the world could come to a full stop.
We could eat ourselves out of house and home. You don't think that's possible? Add a few billion more souls to India and China and see what happens to food supplies that are already scarce.
No problem, you say. The astronauts in space are already drinking reconstituted urine as fresh water. When the time comes we'll simply recycle all waste products. You do that. Personally, I'll have a small problem digging into a sirloin steak that I know comes from reconstituted poop, and people poop at that. I don't care if it is low-fat and cholesterol-free.
Another way to become instant history is to wipe each other out. To finish the Frost poem:

Yet if it had to perish twice
I think I've learned enough of hate
To know that ice is also great
And would suffice.

Not just a cute little poem, but a striking comment on the human condition. There are all kinds of "reasons" to hate each other: different colour skins, different religious beliefs, different cultures, different lifestyles - the list is endless.
My paternal grandfather used to say that one day someone would be able to push a button and blow up the world. That was back in the '30s, but he wasn't far wrong. Nuclear war could bring on nuclear winter and that would be all she wrote. How far are we from that?
Ultimately, life is all about beginnings and endings that are really neither. Instead, beginnings meld into endings which in turn morph into beginnings. I'm a great believer in the cyclic nature of everything. Some say that someday the universe will cease to expand, as it is now doing quite rapidly, and fall back upon itself.
Perhaps then there'll be another Big Bang and the whole thing will start all over again. Perhaps that's how everything that is began, former universes collapsing upon themselves over and over, and being reborn over and over. Of course, it doesn't happen over a weekend.
Isn't this the most pleasant, the most informative, the most amusing and the most entertaining of columns? And it all came about through a re-reading of Frost's "Fire and Ice." And you thought reading poetry was a waste of time!
Want a thought? Read Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" and tell me what you think he's talking about. I'll send you a copy of my last novel, "The Seventh Day" just for doing it and because I like you.
Endings and beginnings, yet no ending and no beginning, sort of like God. Isn't this stuff fascinating? No?
OK.

Ed Smith lives in Springdale. His e-mail address is edsmith@nf.sympatico.ca

Geographic location: India, China, Springdale

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  • Bob
    July 02, 2010 - 13:12

    Well Ed, I've read some of the reviews and analysis' of this poem - suicide, etc. - but, personally. I think that Frost just wrote it out of appreciation for the simple beauty of a natural, unspoiled, scene. His method of travel exposed him to the kind of serenity that most of us miss in our hurry-up world. His horse reflects our usual attitude - used for transport from point to point, he does not understand this pause in the middle of nowhere - he just wants to get where he is going. Nothing special about snow and trees. Frost creates a word picture for the reader in an effort to make others see what he sees. I do think that there is special meaning in his use of the two similar last lines. The first is straightforward - someone is probably expecting him, and he still has some distance to go. However, I think that the second refers to our passage through life, and commitments made which must be fulfilled - but there should still be time to stop and smell the roses .

    I guess the reason for my opinion is the fact that, just recently, I was walking through some woods near my home; and was struck by the fact that although the leaves were gone and brown was the predominent color, there was still a natural peace and beauty to the scene. Unfortunately, I lack Frost's talent to express my feelings as eloquently or concisely.

  • Bob
    July 01, 2010 - 19:49

    Well Ed, I've read some of the reviews and analysis' of this poem - suicide, etc. - but, personally. I think that Frost just wrote it out of appreciation for the simple beauty of a natural, unspoiled, scene. His method of travel exposed him to the kind of serenity that most of us miss in our hurry-up world. His horse reflects our usual attitude - used for transport from point to point, he does not understand this pause in the middle of nowhere - he just wants to get where he is going. Nothing special about snow and trees. Frost creates a word picture for the reader in an effort to make others see what he sees. I do think that there is special meaning in his use of the two similar last lines. The first is straightforward - someone is probably expecting him, and he still has some distance to go. However, I think that the second refers to our passage through life, and commitments made which must be fulfilled - but there should still be time to stop and smell the roses .

    I guess the reason for my opinion is the fact that, just recently, I was walking through some woods near my home; and was struck by the fact that although the leaves were gone and brown was the predominent color, there was still a natural peace and beauty to the scene. Unfortunately, I lack Frost's talent to express my feelings as eloquently or concisely.