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.
– Robert Frost

Frost’s little piece reads like a nursery rhyme with a depressing moral, at first glance. “Nothing gold can stay”–is he saying that nothing good lasts, that everything beautiful eventually withers and dies?

We’re all tempted to believe that, especially when we’re confronted with the reality of death. But at the core of the poem is a hidden message of burning hope.

“Nature’s first green is gold,” he says, and he’s quite right. Every plant puts out flowers first, and leaves second.

The golden forsythias in early Spring are breathtaking, until the flowers drop off, and then they become ordinary green, pretty, but nothing special. It’s just the natural progression of the year.

Not just of the year, though. That’s what happened to mankind, too.

The Garden of Eden was the Spring of mankind, but it didn’t last forever. Man fell, and “Eden sank to grief.” Suffering and winter entered the world.

Spring reminds us of that original, short-lived paradise, and it’s bittersweet, because now we know “nothing gold can stay.”

Except then, Frost throws a really confusing image into the mix. “Dawn goes down to day.” I wanted to say, “Wait a second. Dawn goes up. The sun rises up.”

This metaphor is flat-out inaccurate, because as the the sun rises, it grows in heat and brightness. What’s going on here?

The image of a flower doesn’t match the theme of diminishing beauty either, actually. If that’s what Frost wanted to say, he should have talked about ice that melts, or a fire that reduces a log to ash, or any one of a million images.

But the thing about a flower is that it isn’t attractive for its own sake; it’s trying to attract a pollinator. Every fruit and seed has to begin with a flower. That flower produces fruit, which in turn, produces many new flowers. Continue reading

  • Anna O’Neil is a graduate of Thomas More College of Liberal Arts. She likes cows, confession and the color yellow, not necessarily in that order.


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