Nothing Gold Can Stay
By Robert Frost – 1874-1963
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.
About the Poem
“Nothing Gold Can Stay” is one of Robert Frost’s very simple seeming poems, but holds much greater depth than you might think at first glance. However, it’s a beautiful poem for fall, especially as the leaves are beginning to turn to those beautiful autumn colors that the state is known for.
When it comes to understanding this poem, there can be a lot of pretentiousness in the analysis. Take for example these excerpts of reviews that are included on Wikipedia:
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.”
I have almost always found literary analysis to be mostly pretentious with the experts using “big words” to say something (such as paradisiac) that could have been said in simpler language. It’s a fault with most academics. If they can use $100 words and sound smart, they can fool people into believing that they really are smart. While a lot of them are, it’s still a whole lot of pretension. I had a literature professor once tell our class that William Faulkner stopped a sentence in one paragraph of the book we were reading and picked up the sentence a hundred pages into the book. How he knew this, he could never explain, nor could he actually make the two sentence “fragments” actually make sense together.
I’ve always believed it was much better to say things in plain language so that more people could understand. Education and academic pursuits are not meant to see how smart you can sound while trying to show your audience just how dumb you think they are. If you’re ever in an art museum in which a group of art historians are in front of you (this actually happened to me at the MFA in Boston) each trying to show the others that they know more than the next. It was a constant game of one-upmanship in which they all just came off as pompous asses.
With that rant being given about pretentious academics, I will say that “Nothing Gold Can Stay” is one of my favorite Frost poems. As the leaves turn a myriad of autumn shades in the next couple of weeks, they’ll soon fall to the ground and turn brown before being covered in snow a few weeks later. Autumn is beautiful in New England, especially Vermont, but it doesn’t last very long. One good rainstorm at the peak of the season can end the season in a matter of hours, not days or weeks. Back in Alabama, the leaves won’t begin to turn for many more weeks, but even then, there is not the rich variety of collars found in Vermont.