Robert Frost is one of the most celebrated American poets alive, and had received the Pulitzer prize for Poetry on four different occasions. This article provides a complete analysis of Nothing Gold Can Stay, one of his best works that won him a Pulitzer prize in 1924. Since this is a 8-line poem, we shall do a line by line explanation of Nothing Gold Can Stay, and then try to extract it’s meaning at the end. Feel free to share your thoughts, it’ll be highly appreciated!
Line by line Explanation of Nothing Gold Can Stay
Nature’s first green is gold,
This gives us a context, a setting. The setting is that of nature and the poem is talking about leaves. When the poet says that the first green is gold, he could be referring to one from a couple of things. When the sun rises at dawn, everything appears golden. The slanting rays of the sun blind the darkness of the night and the sky appears golden. When such sunlight falls on the leaves, they appear golden to the eye as well. The other meaning the poet could be making is that of the arrival of spring. There are indeed a lot of trees such as willows, which are golden in early spring, before they change to the lively green colour.
Her hardest hue to hold,
The poet says that such gold, as mentioned in the first line, is the hardest hue (or colour) to hold. The golden sky that sunrise brings is almost immediately transformed to the day, and the golden colour gives way for a brighter and bolder yellow. The willows are golden when the spring announces itself, but then they promptly turn to green in order to welcome the spring. Hence, the transition happens quickly, and this colour is the hardest to hold. While the green appearance of the leaves remains all through the day, the golden appearance is only for a short while. Hence it is hard to hold. Here, nature has been personified and has been referred to as ‘her’. We also get another couple of ideas about the style. Hold rhymes with gold, so the poem is written in the form of couplets. Also, there is some great alliteration that Frost has used in this line with a multitude of H-sounds.
Her early leaf’s a flower,
Here, the poet further builds on what he mentioned in the first line. The poet signifies the beauty of the ‘early leaf’ as a flower. The early leaf is the golden leaf that has been mentioned in the first line. He compares that to a flower which is much more beautiful as compared to a leaf. Since we all know that leaves don’t quite develop to become flowers, we know that this is the use of a metaphor, where the flower is the metaphor for something beautiful. We also see recurrence of the personification of nature.
But only so an hour,
Here, the poet builds on what he wrote in line two. Since the gold of the leaves is its hardest hue to hold, it disappears quickly. The poet says that it stays for ‘only so an hour’. Here the hour doesn’t denote exactly an hour; it stands for a very small amount of time. The gold stays for a small amount of time, and then quickly disappears from the leaves so that they can turn green. ‘Hour’ rhymes with ‘flower’ and hence it’s the end of another couplet.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
Here, the poet brilliantly compares the two leaves he has mentioned – the early leaf, which the author has described as a flower, and the green leaf. The poet denotes that the early golden leaf which is pretty, changes or ‘subsides’ to a leaf that is green. The use of subsides is interesting because this denotes that the poet places the green leaf on a lower level than the golden leaf. The green leaf denotes something ordinary, while the golden leaf is something special.
So Eden sank to grief,
Here, he makes a biblical reference – that to the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve first lived. When the Forbidden Fruit was eaten, all the charm and the beauty of the Garden of Eden had reduced. It transformed from something special to something ordinary. The poet makes a comparison here to the Garden of Eden. The mere act of eating the forbidden fruit transformed the promise of a beautiful life in the Garden of Eden into the grief that we face today because we lost the opportunity to lead such a life. Similarly, the golden leaf ‘sinks’ into the normal green leaf.
So dawn goes down to day,
The poet continues with his comparisons. Here he says that the beauty of the dawn goes down to the day. He considers dawn as much more beautiful and scenic, but it eventually goes down to become a normal day. It is this very dawn which gives the golden hue to the leaves as well. When the dawn goes down to the day, the leaves change from golden to green. This also gives us a sense of inevitability. The eating of the forbidden fruit was voluntary, but the dawn going down to the day is due to forces out of our control. We also see another instance of alliteration with the series of D-sounds.
Nothing gold can stay,
The last line brings us full circle back to the title of the poem. The use of the word ‘nothing’ summarizes all that he told in the poem – the golden of the leaves, the dawn, and the Garden of Eden. They all disappear, and hence, nothing gold can stay.
Theme of Nothing Gold Can Stay
The theme of Nothing Gold Can Stay which lies beneath the poem makes a wonderful comparison between the beauty of nature and the happiness of human achievements. It simply states – nothing is permanent. It is a truth of life which Frost denotes to us in wonderful terms. The good phases and good things of life are denoted with the use of the ‘golden leaf’ and the ordinary things are denoted with the use of ‘green leaf’. In life, we get a number of great things which gives us immense pleasure, but all of them must one day ‘subside’ to become ordinary. Nothing Gold Can Stay by Robert Frost tells us that these ‘golden’ moments are truly special and helps us to realize that we must appreciate them for as long as they are there.