Nothing gold can stay

Nothing Gold Can Stay

by Robert Frost

Nothing Gold Can Stay – Summary & Analysis

In Short

  • The first buds of early spring are like gold in appearance as well as in beauty and purity. But Nature cannot hold that colour for long.
  • Those leaves finally mature and fall. Similarly, beautiful dawn gives way to daytime.
  • So, nothing pure, beautiful and young can last forever.

Nothing Gold Can Stay – Explanation

Lines 1 – 2

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.

The poem starts with the poet commenting on nature’s beauty and purity. Here, “nature’s first green” refers to springtime. In spring the nature is in full bloom. After a long dry winter, nature is now decorated with green leaves. It’s still the early stage when the leaves have not yet transformed into darker green leaves. Those are lighter in colour and so look golden.

Again, gold is generally associated with preciousness and purity. So metaphorically, the speaker indicates that the first buds of nature are a pure and precious thing to cherish.

In the next line, ‘her’ refers to the nature. We generally personify nature as our mother. The word ‘hue’ means colour. The speaker says it is the toughest thing to hold the golden appearance of nature. We find them only for a very short time. It transforms very fast and is transient in nature.

Lines 3 – 4

Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.

The speaker opines that the earliest leaves of spring are as beautiful as flowers due to the golden colour. In fact, spring itself is lovely as a flower. But he regrets that the spring lasts only for a short span of time. It’s like a few hours we have to enjoy the natural beauty of early spring.

Lines 5 – 6

Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,

The speaker now says that the first golden blossoms of spring are eventually replaced by mature dark green leaves (leaf subsides to leaf). He uses the word ‘subside’ so perfectly here to bring a sense of decline. Actually, plants sprout, bud, grow, wither and die. This cycle is eternal. At the same time, it gives us the impression that the early glow turns into a dull failure.

Next line the speaker refers to the Biblical story of Eden to further illustrate his point. As the humanity fell from the Garden of Eden towards earth, the spring moves slowly towards winter. Eden is a metaphor for both beauty in general and the perfect epitome of nature. Both of these things are fleeting and can’t last forever.

Lines 7 – 8

So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

The inevitability of decay is stated through this line. The moment something begins, it is also its progression towards end. The dawn, pure and fresh, always gives way to daylight. After some time, the day too comes to an end.

So, “nothing gold can stay’ forever, as the poet puts it perfectly in the last line. Here ‘gold’ means anything which is beautiful, pure and valued. No beautiful and good thing in life is permanent. All things must fade away with time’s decaying power.

Nothing Gold Can Stay – Into details

Publication

“Nothing Gold Can Stay” is a short poem by Robert Frost. It was finished in 1923 and originally published in “The Yale Review” in October of that year. Later this poem was included in Frost’s famous collection “New Hampshire” (1923). It is known that the poet had actually been working on this poem for three years from 1920 to 1923 and produced six versions.

Background/Context

Frost’s life in the midst of nature in Derry Farm in New Hampshire from 1900 to 1911 shaped up his poetic impulse. Nature and its beautiful aspects often found place in his poetry, as we can find in his famous poems like “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and “Birches”. In the present poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay”, we find the poet’s inclination towards natural beauty.

But here is an element of disillusionment too in this poem. The poet expresses his grief and lamentation over the fact that no beautiful thing in life is permanent. Maybe this sense of disillusionment and loss is a result of the First World Ward (1914-1918) and the Spanish Flu pandemic (1918-1920) which had seen the death of millions.

Setting

This poem has no particular setting. It mostly takes place in the mind of the speaker. He gives a beautiful description of spring when the new golden leaves just sprout. Then the speaker discusses about the transformation all beautiful things go through. This emphasizes the transitory nature of life.

Title

The title “Nothing Gold Can Stay” is again used as the last line of the poem. This line holds the essential theme of the entire poem. The poet means to say that no good, pure and beautiful thing is here to stay forever.

The speaker depicts how spring’s first leaves transforms to mature leaves and finally fall. He also presents the dawn which gives way to daytime. Thus, the poet-speaker establishes his philosophy regarding transitoriness of all good things in life.

The title brings a sense of loss which might be the result of humanity’s collective disillusionment after seeing the WWI and the Spanish Flu destructing lives in the early 20th century when Frost wrote the poem.

Form and language

The poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” is a very short but compact lyric poem, consisting of only eight lines. The language is very simple and lucid. There is no stanza division. But the poem follows a metrical pattern and rhyme scheme.

In fact, Robert Frost was among those few American poets of his time who tried to stick to the conventional poetic structures when the others tried to deviate from the conventions.

Meter and Rhyme scheme

“Nothing Gold Can Stay” is written in rhyming couplet, so it follows AABBCCDD rhyme scheme.

Nature’s first green is gold, A
Her hardest hue to hold. A
Her early leaf’s a flower; B
But only so an hour. B

Talking about the metrical pattern, the poem is written roughly in iambic trimeter. An iamb is a metrical foot where a stressed syllable follows an unstressed one (da-DUM). And, trimeter means a verse line consisting of three such feet.

Her ear– | ly leaf’s | a flower;
But on– | ly so | an hour.

There are some exceptions in the 1st, 7th and 8th line.

Nature’s | first green | is gold (line 1)
So dawn | goes down | to day (line 7)
Nothing | gold can | stay (line 8)

The first and the last lines of the poem start with trochee which is the opposite of an iamb with a stressed-unstressed syllable pattern. The middle feet in line 1 and 7 are spondee where both syllables are stressed. And, you see the last line has only five syllables where all the others have six.

Nothing Gold Can Stay – Themes

The brevity of life, beauty and youth

In “Nothing Gold Can Stay”, the poet Robert Frost talks about the inevitability of change. According to the poem, nothing beautiful, valuable can last forever. The poem begins by focusing on changes in the natural world. ‘Nature’s first green’ refers to the season of spring. In this season, everything seems fresh, beautiful, ‘gold’ in colour. Eventually, the spring will change and the next season summer comes.

This is something we find in our life too. Life may seem perfect when going right, but this will not stay forever. Many times, in a person’s life there will be unhappiness and sorrow, the good times will end. Likewise, one’s beauty will fade away one day and youth will not stay forever.

Nothing Gold Can Stay – Symbols

Gold

Gold is a very important symbol here. It represents beauty, purity and value. Throughout this poem, the poet wants to convey that no beauty, no good thing can last forever. The poem begins with the reference of gold. The first buds of the spring are compared to gold in the sense that they are beautiful and pure. Also, the glow of sunrise at down is golden hued. But all these things are impermanent. All these things just live for a short span of time.

Nature

Nature plays a vital role in this poem. “Nature’s first green” symbolizes youth, beauty and the beginning of life. Frost uses images of nature to describe the different parts of a person’s life, from youth to old age. ‘Green’ and ‘dawn’ are the symbol of youth. Also, Frost represents nature as a female figure.

Nothing Gold Can Stay – Literary Devices

End stopped lines

End-stopped line in poetry is a line of verse where a sentence or phrase ends at the end of the line, generally with a punctuation mark like a comma, colon, full stop etc.

In the poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay”, all eight lines are end-stopped lines. For example:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.

Assonance

Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in nearby words. Here are examples from the poem:

Her early leaf’s a flower;

In the above line you can see the repetition of /əː/ sound in ‘her’, ‘early’ and ‘flower’. Sound /i/ is repeated in ‘early’ and ‘leaf’.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,

Similarly sound /iː/ is repeated four times in the above lines.

Consonance

It is the opposite of assonance, the repetition of consonant sound in neighbouring words.

Here are some examples:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;

Notice the repetitions of consonant sounds /n/, /g/, /d/, /h/, /r/, /l/ and /f/ in the above lines.

Alliteration

Alliteration is a kind of consonance where consonant sounds are repeated at the beginning or in stressed syllables of nearby words. Some instances are –

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.

In the above lines, the repetitions of /g/ and /h/ sounds come in stressed syllable or at the beginning of words. Hence, those are examples of Alliteration as well as consonance.

So dawn goes down to day.

Repetition of /d/ sound in line 7 is another good instance of alliteration here.

Metaphor

Metaphor in literature is an indirect or implied comparison between two things where there is a point of similarity. The entire poem including its title “Nothing Gold Can Stay” is metaphorical here.

‘Gold’ here symbolizes anything that is precious, beautiful and pure. On the other hand, nature’s beautiful elements like the spring’s early leaves or dawn represent youth, beauty and purity. Using the metaphors of gold and natural elements the poet conveys his message that nothing good can last forever.

Personification

Personification is the attribution of human characteristics to non-human things. In “Nothing Gold Can Stay”, Nature is personified as a woman when the poet says –

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;

Allusion

In literature, an allusion is an indirect reference to something which is culturally, politically or historically important.

In the present poem, the reference to the Biblical Garden of Eden is an allusion.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,

The poet refers to the fall of humanity from the Garden of Eden to express the opinion that every perfect thing falls from grace with the passing of time.

Anaphora

In rhetoric, anaphora is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses.

Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;

So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.

In the poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay”, we can find anaphora twice – once in line 2 and 3, and again in line 6 and 7.

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