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 | 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.
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.