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Analysis of Poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay" by Robert Frost

Updated on April 20, 2017
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Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.

Robert Frost
Robert Frost | Source

Robert Frost and Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nothing Gold Can Stay is a short poem of eight lines that contains subtle yet profound messages within metaphor, paradox and allegory. It is a compressed piece of work in which each word and sound plays its part in full.

Written when Frost was 48 years old, an experienced poet, whose life had known grief and family tragedy, the poem focuses on the inevitability of loss - how nature, time and mythology are all subject to cycles.

As with many a Frost poem, close observation of the natural world is the foundation for building poetic truths, inside of which lie hidden messages and ideas. As the leaves start to show in the season of spring they are perceived as gold, but soon turn to familiar green and before too long they're fading as victims of time.

So it's possible to pick out three distinct associations:

  • the season of spring - holding on to precious color.
  • time - and the pace of life.
  • Eden - how humans experience grief and shame.

Nothing Gold Can Stay


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.

Analysis of Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nothing Gold Can Stay is predominantly iambic trimeter in rhythm, that is, there are three regular stress beats to most lines, except lines 1 and 8, which contain trochees and spondees:

Nature's / first green / is gold,

Nothing / gold / can stay.

The spondee slows the reader down, whilst the emphasis on the very first syllable reinforces the surge that is spring's growth. This combination is crucial in importance as it underlines the idea that life is a transient thing, fleeting, and not what it seems. For how can green be gold?

Note the contrast of the meter in lines 1 and 8, it breaks away from the traditional da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM of the steady iambic, a sure sign that the poet wants the reader to sit up and take note.

Rhyme

All the end rhymes are full which definitely makes the poem easier to remember and brings a certain repetitive familiarity to the poem, a reflection of the seasonal cycle perhaps? Frost was a classicist after all, and much preferred to rhyme his lines.

Alliteration

There are several alliterative lines:

line 1 green is gold

line 2 Her hardest hue

line 6 So Eden sank

line 7 So dawn goes down

Metaphor

The first line contains a metaphor, where green becomes gold, as does line three, where a leaf is a flower.

Further Analysis Line By Line

Lines 1 - 4

A simple observation is given a twist in the first line, as the emerging shoots of green turn into gold, either a trick of the sunlight or perceived impression. A metaphor nevertheless, gold being that most precious thing, of most value.

Her hardest hue - rich alliteration and a hint of personification as (Mother) Nature struggles to keep hold of this new fresh gold. Time is against her as the season begins to unfurl and with it the leaves, changing color (colour in UK) all too quickly.

A repeat of 'Her' to remind the reader of the cyclic process. The leaf now transforms into a flower, that is, it represents the transient state of life, fleeting existence. Add a little hyperbole - the season is reduced to about one hour! That is some short life span. The poet is saying that time passes so fast; blink an eye and it's gone.

Lines 5 - 8

Again there is the focus on the leaf, each deciduous tree's budding acknowledgement of the return of spring. Each leaf becomes less active as time wears on; they fade away as sure as the temperature starts to drop and the days become shorter. Subsides is an interesting word to use in this context - its root is from the latin subsidere which means to settle or sink.

Line six brings with it the relation to the human condition, specifically the old testament Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve's lives fell into shame because of their disobedience. The parallels are clear - perfect, ideal situations don't last forever.

Dawn will always be a temporary state, it will slide away into day as surely as day will slide into night and so on and so forth. Precious 'golden' times and states, by their very nature, are destined to change into something that may not always be ideal, so the message is to take full advantage of what is precious and valuable.

© 2017 Andrew Spacey

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