Straw into Gold by Glynn Young uses the story of Rumpelstiltskin in its five stanzas to address the common problem that occurs when an untruth is spoken, one that escalates from being a simple “boast.” Each “boast” made that is not grounded in truth is a risk, and the ones that grow into “agony” are the harsh repercussions of trying to change the mundane “straw” into something more “golden” and flattering. As the final stanza indicates, the true “straw” nature of the “boast” can be revealed in time since the truth is the one thing that can put an end to the chaos of trying to prove a “boast,” and should that happen, the “gold” is no longer impressive. In fact, it becomes as mundane as “straw” once more. You can read the poem, in full, in the article here.
In essence, according to Young, people should take care of the “boast[s]” they make since those claims can haunt and shatter.
Straw into Gold Analysis
Can you spin
straw into gold,
straw into gold, a boast
becomes a lie, a lie
becomes a request,
becomes a promise,
becomes an agony
Taking a concept directly from a fairy tale, Young begins this poem by dropping the reader into a metaphor based on the tale of Rumpelstiltskin who was noted as being able to “spin straw into gold.” This clear connection is apparent in the title of the work itself, and also in the reliance on the theme of “spin[ning] straw” in such a way. In the fairy tale, the task was literal. In this poem, however, the process is a metaphor for allowing “boast[ing]” words that are not grounded in solid truths to blossom into a vast story. This claim is evident within this first stanza as it specifically addresses “a boast” and then walks the reader through a step-by-step process as to how that “boast” will grow into something horrific—“an agony.”
There are two elements at work here beyond the description of how the “boast” will unpleasantly grow, and both indicate a level of “mad[ness]” that once more mirrors “a boast” that gets carried away. Having to deal with such an advancement from a single lie or tiny claim can lead to desperate avenues to fulfill “a promise” or fashion a reality that resembles the “boast,” and these tasks can be an ongoing pursuit that is beyond the realm of sane—perhaps can even make a person feel like they are temporarily going “mad.” Specifically, the narrator addresses “you,” as if they can see the reader and converse with them, and this breaking of the fourth wall is very much out of the ordinary in regard to watching fiction play out. If this truly were a real narrator speaking these lines, the notion that he would be addressing a person who was not present while the words were spoken, expecting that person could hear and answer questions, would be nonsensical.
Furthermore, the repetition of this stanza shows a touch of “mad[ness],” almost as if the narrator is stuck on certain concepts without being able to move past them. This can represent the level of insanity that comes from trying to keep a lie from being revealed, like an ongoing chase that continues to stretch out. In the end, what seems beautiful like “gold” turns to something that is frustrating and demanding.
Second and Third Stanza
the tales we spin
the straw we spin
golden, or not
watching as he spins
madly, the wheel turning,
a game of roulette played
and forgotten until
the croupier demands his due
Stanza three continues to address the paradox that is the “gold” of “a boast” turning into something unpleasant. In that stanza, Young claims “the tales” and “the straw we spin” are “golden” in another repetitious and succinct manner, but then shifts to rebut the concept with the very simple “or not” that leaves the reader questioning. What this entails is that while the “boast” might have appeared grand at the time it was told, as time passes and the truth punches holes into the “tale,” the “boast” no longer seems so wonderful.
From there, the fourth stanza dives into why the “tales” are not as “golden” after their creation in a manner that addresses the “mad[ness]” that can be inferred in the first stanza. The “spinning” turns to something that is done “madly,” though Young never specifies who is “watching” this happen. It could be that this is a detail for any observer or omniscient narrator, or it could be the “boast[er]” “watching” their own story “spin” out of control in such a manner. The latter possibility would certainly boost the level of insanity that is being noted by Young as a consequence to what was “golden” at first, so the odds of such being the case are valid. In the end, however, it is only stipulation in regard to who is “watching.”
Despite that uncertainty—or perhaps, in part, because of that uncertainty—the reader can submerge into the bizarre scenario of the “boast[er]” as his “gold” turns to something unsettling. “[T]he wheel is turning,” which indicates that the “boast[er]” has little control over the situation as time passes because “the wheel” is already in motion. This again adds merit to the idea that the “boast[er]” is the one “watching” since the image of that “boast[er]” “watching” this “wheel” in frustration parallels well with being unable to stop the progress of this “boast.”
As if this fairy tale concept were not enough to express this notion of a “boast” being potentially complicated, Young brings the prospect of “roulette” into the discussion. What this would note is that, like in “roulette,” every “boast” is a gamble that can bring misfortune, though this particular “game” is “forgotten” until the “due” is “demand[ed].” “[A] boast” does not always include a financial “due,” but the comparison is still valid since a person can make “a boast” that escapes memory, but later the “golden” aspect of that “boast” can be ruined by the truth. In order to prevent that from happening, effort must be put into the prospect to keep the “boast” from being revealed, and the “boast” itself can feel like “the croupier” who constantly demands more contribution to keep things hidden.
Fourth and Fifth Stanzas
unless the name is forthcoming
unless the name is known and spoken
speaking the name dispels enchantment
naming the one breaks the hold
just a name, spinning fool’s gold
back to straw.
The fourth stanza again embraces the “mad[dening]” approach of repetition to represent the solution for someone who wants to escape that “mad[ness].” Specifically, the truth must be offered, which is clear through the concepts of “the name [being] forthcoming” as well as “known and spoken.” In this, “the name” represents the true form of the story that was “boast[ed]” into a “tale,” and only by addressing openly what that “name” is will “the croupier” allow the “due” to be forgiven. According to Young, being truthful in this regard “dispels the enchantment” and “breaks the hold.”
This is a simple concept, but it can often lead to the “boast[er]” feeling embarrassed at having to come clean from the untruth. The fifth stanza, as it happens, addresses this concept by claiming that the “gold,” which has now been labeled as “fool’s,” is “spinning…back to straw.” This represents the reversal of the “boast.” Whereas when it was told, it appeared “golden,” it must now be taken from that pedestal, just as a seamstress must undo stitches that did not come out right. The “boast[er] must un-“spin” his “tale” to escape the “agony,” and therefore reveal that the circumstance was commonplace to begin with—like “straw.”
About Glynn Young
Glynn Young is a poet who has had success in other writing areas as well. He is, in fact, perhaps better known for his speech-writing than he is for his poetry, though Straw into Gold showcases his potential talent in the poetry field. In addition to these writing tasks, he blogs and has written novels, and he is an editor. He is also a married father of two and enjoys biking.