Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nothing Gold Can Stay

by Robert Frost

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.


Nothing Gold Can Stay is an eight line poem, with an aa-bb-cc-dd rhyme scheme, focused on a theme that “nothing beautiful lasts forever.” Using nature themes, Frost’s poem describes the loss of beauty in contexts which most of us view as a necessary loss – growing vegetation, the changing of seasons, and the sun moving up beyond just a peak above the horizon.

[I suppose we are not meant to celebrate the loss of Eden as a necessary step but perhaps the Speaker includes that as well.]

Line 1:

The first line of the poem states that “Nature’s first green is gold,” and by this the Speaker means that the first green shoots of Spring, after the winter has ended, are as valuable as gold.

Line 2:

‘Her’ is an example of personification. ‘Her’ here refers to nature, or perhaps “Mother Nature,” and the Speaker tells us that first green (re: line 1) does not last for long. We know that during summer heat, green grass dries to yellow, then in autumn plants begin to die, before finally in winter they are dead and gone, often covered in snow.

Line 3:

Here the Speaker is describing a fact about Spring. Flowers bloom in the spring. He might also be using the word “flower” here as a metaphor for the beauty of spring more generally, as well.

Line 4:

The Speaker reminds us again that the flower and beauty of spring will not last for long. We see now in line four that this poem is developing a cadence of delivering positive statements on odd-numbered lines and reminders of the brevity of those positive traits in the even-numbered lines.

Line 5:

As with line three, the Speaker is providing a fact about Spring. Leaves give way to other leaves. However, in this statement of fact – and this time without leaving the Spring season – the poet’s statement returns us to the theme of brevity. Even in the green times, leaves give way to other leaves. Nothing lasts. Line five also is a break from the cadence of the first four lines. The first four lines were positive-brevity reminder-positive-brevity reminder. The expectation should be that this statement is once more a positive statement. However, line five reflects a turn wherein each line for the remainder of the poem is instead a reminder of the poem’s theme.

Line 6:

So Eden sank to grief,

Here the Speaker reminds us that even the Biblical Garden of Eden did not last. Eden is representative of the ideas of life and immortality – permanent greenness / goldness, as it were. We know though that Eden sank beneath the waves of the Great Flood. Before that, it sank for humanity, at least, beneath the consequences of humanity’s sin. It could not stay.

Line 7:

So dawn goes down to day.

The Speaker reminds us once more of the inevitability of beauty’s end. In the morning, we say in English that the sun comes up. The Speaker points out though that even this process – synonymous with newness and new beginnings, and life itself – brings about an end. By saying that “dawn goes down” to day, the Speaker reminds us that even within this moment, the beauty of a sunrise ends and gives way to just regular old daylight.

Line 8:

Nothing gold can stay.

Here the Speaker gives us the message most plainly spoken. “Gold” is representative of beauty and he tells us that all beauty is temporary.

From wiki:

Nothing Gold Can Stay” is a short poem by Robert Frost, written in 1923 and published in The Yale Review in October of that year.

It was later published in the collection New Hampshire (1923), which earned Frost the 1924 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. The poem lapsed into public domain in 2019. New Hampshire also included Frost’s poems “Fire and Ice” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”.

Reception Alfred R. Ferguson wrote of the poem, “Perhaps no single poem more fully embodies the ambiguous balance between paradisiac good and the paradoxically more fruitful human good than ‘Nothing Gold Can Stay,’ a poem in which the metaphors of Eden and the Fall cohere with the idea of felix culpa.”

John A. Rea wrote about the poem’s “alliterative symmetry”, citing as examples the second line’s “hardest – hue – hold” and the seventh’s “dawn – down – day”; he also points out how the “stressed vowel nuclei also contribute strongly to the structure of the poem” since the back round diphthongs bind the lines of the poem’s first quatrain together while the front rising diphthongs do the same for the last four lines.

In 1984, William H. Pritchard called the poem’s “perfectly limpid, toneless assertion” an example of Frost demonstrating how “his excellence extended also to the shortest of figures”, and fitting Frost’s “later definition of poetry as a momentary stay against confusion.”

In 1993, George F. Bagby wrote the poem “projects a fairly comprehensive vision of experience” in a typical but “extraordinarily compressed” example of synecdoche that “moves from a detail of vegetable growth to the history of human failure and suffering.

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