Frost is saying that all things fade in time, and that is partly what makes them beautiful. The article will begin with an in-depth analysis of ‘Nothing Gold Can Stay’. Then, it will move on to discussing the piece’s structure. Finally, it will end with a note about the historical context.
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Structure of Nothing Gold Can Stay
‘Nothing Gold Can Stay’ is an example of how Robert Frost used common American and rural imagery to discuss complex topics. There are no words in this piece with more than three syllables, for instance.
You can read the poem in full here.
Analysis, Line by Line
Nature’s first green is gold,
‘Nothing Gold Can Stay’ begins with a simple statement. I believe that ‘Nature’s first green’ refers to spring. The poet is saying that the commonly accepted beauty of the first buds of green shooting up after a long winter is worth as much as gold. It is of course a fleeting beauty; the seasons will inevitably march on. The soft beauty of spring soon fades to summer and beyond.
“Her” refers to nature, often personified as a woman or mother. The “hue” is of course “green” as explained in the first line. The second explains that the green of spring cannot last. In summer, the fields dry to brown. In fall, the leaves wither, change colors, and fall to earth. In winter, life is buried under a sea of white. It is impossible to keep a plant green forever, as any gardener knows.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
This line of ‘Nothing Gold Can Stay’ is both a statement of fact and a metaphor. Obviously, in spring the trees will bud and flower before growing back their leaves. In that, literal, respect, the statement is completely accurate.
Metaphorically, the writer is saying that the earliest leaves are as beautiful as a flower. In other words, spring itself, is lovely as a flower.
This line refers to “her early leaf” from the preceding one. On the literal level, the reader knows that the springtime blossoms last more than a mere hour. Metaphorically, that early beauty endures for such a brief and fleeting time that it could seem like it only really lasts for an instant.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
Here the writer is describing that the first blossoms of spring are replaced. As mentioned above, nature adheres to a strict pattern. Plants sprout, bud, grow, wither, and die. Each part of the cycle brings a new aesthetic that is both new and familiar, different, and the same.
In this line, the poet invokes the biblical Garden of Eden to further illustrate his point. As nature slowly progresses from spring to winter, so did Eden go from the cradle of humanity to a place in distant memory.
Eden is a metaphor for both beauty in general and the perfect epitome of nature. Both of these ideas are fleeting and cannot last forever.
So dawn goes down to day.
The inevitability of decay is emphasized in this line. Just as the dawn, beautiful and unique, must always give way to daylight, beauty must always be replaced by something else. Frost is saying that sunrise is only a temporary, limited time. All things must also be as limited.
Nothing gold can stay.
In the final line, the poet drives home his point. “Gold” is a symbol for all things beautiful, important, and valued. He is saying that gold does not last forever. He believes that this is true of all things found in nature. Trees, streams, oceans, mountains, and even the sun and stars: nothing is constant. All things change. All things fade to nothing.
Frost is one of the most famous and honored poets in American history. He often employed scenes from rural New England in his poems, using them to discuss complex philosophical topics. In ‘Nothing Gold Can Stay’, for instance, the poet uses the shifting of the seasons to comment on the fleeting nature of life and beauty.
The poem was first published in 1924. It later appeared in a collection of Frost’s work that earned him a Pulitzer Prize. The poem went through a few different versions and edits as well. The version discussed above is widely recognized to be the most complete.