Robert Frost's  "Nothing Gold Can Stay"

Updated on October 5, 2019
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

Poetry became my passion, after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962.

Robert Frost


Introduction and Text of "Nothing Gold Can Stay

Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay” plays out in eight lines fashioned into four riming couplets. The theme that the speaker is pursuing includes the observation that on the material/physical level of being there is a continuing period of loss that remains in flux from one state to the ultimate state, for example, morning gives way to night, as does life to death. Other pairs of opposites are early to late, joy to sorrow,—even east to west, north to south, good to bad, high to low and the pairs seem to go on endlessly in their propensity.

Robert Frost’s readers are aware that the poet often relies of nature and natural events to make observational comments on his own experiences. As the poet employs his metaphorical vehicles, he engages the reader’s attention not only to the natural world but also to the very human world of the mind and heart.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

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 reads "Nothing Gold Can Stay"


One of the poet's most analyzed/anthologized poems, "Nothing Gold Can Stay" dramatizes the human desire to retain all things that heart and mind deem worthwhile or “golden.”

First Couplet: Gold Before Green

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.

The first couplet of “Nothing Gold Can Stay” claims that in the natural setting a golden color appears before the green. He uses the example of the plant whose new leaves often give off a yellowish hue before the leaf matures into its chlorophyll infused green. But then the speaker asserts that that early golden hue is the “hardest” to hang onto. That early golden glow seem to vanish quickly; thus the speaker assumes that it did so because it’s just too dang hard to keep.

However, because the speaker does not elucidate his assertion, readers will be struck at once by the fact that many contradictions to the speaker’s claim rush to mind: the redbud tree, for instance, first comes out with a reddish blossom that turns into greens leaves—not gold. Another example is the cherry blossom that displays itself in the beginning as a light pink hue—again, not golden. Yet, neither the redbud nor the cherry retain their original non-golden hues.

Thus one might take issue with the speaker’s claim regarding color and hue. Gold is not the only hue that is difficult to retain. But then metaphorically speaking, likening gold to youth, or perhaps even wealth, the speaker is on firm ground in professing that early status as golden and hard to hold onto. Trees and plants, of course, make no attempt to hold on to their early stages of development. That concept is purely a human invented one.

Second Couplet: Flowers Before Leaves

Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.

The second couplet finds the speaker claiming that flowers always appear before leaves on plants. Yet only some plants develop in that order. As mentioned the redbud and cherry both burst out in flowers first. Other examples are the Bradford pear and the forsythia. Most plants, however, do not develop the flower first; they sprout leaves, flowers, and then the fruit. Take garden vegetables, for example; these plants develop leaves, flowers, and finally fruit.

Most flowers that are used for decorative purposes grow their flowers after they have established their leaf system. The speaker's lack of total accuracy, however, can be overlooked as exaggeration and the truth of his observation accepted, as he philosophizes about the brevity of early stages of development in plants. After all, he is not offering scientific treatise.

Third Couplet: Leaf Before Leaf

Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,

So leaves give way to new leaves. Then colorful leaves, that is, flowers appear, and again give way to green. Then the golden tinged leaves further give way to the green leaves. The main concern is that the early stage of development subsides to the later ones. The speaker then alludes to the paradisal garden—the Garden of Eden—which also could not stay. An astounding observation that even paradise subsides to a lesser state of being!

However, the giving way of paradise not only resulted in a subsiding; it also transformed down to "grief." The human heart prompts this speaker to demonstrate his melancholy of wishing that things would remain in the preferred state: that youth would remain youthful, that wealth would retain its value, the golden things would continue to be golden, and that the Garden of Eden remain paradisiacal instead of sinking into grief.

Fourth Couplet: Dawn Before Day

So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

The speaker is, however, a realist, who is well aware of human folly, and he recognizes the foolishness of wishing to hold on to that vanishing gold. He knows wishing will not make it so. Thus he concludes his observations with the common transformation of dawn giving way to day. The negative direction of "going down" once again betrays the speaker's human heart filled with sentiment based on value judgment.

The speaker just cannot help himself—his senses all tell him that the negative is securely operational in the nature of all things. Despite the very human wish to hold on to what is young, rich, happy, bright, and on and on, he know such is only that, wishful thinking. Thus he slaps his ultimate concluding image on with painful certainty as he remarks, "Nothing gold can stay."

Robert Frost - Commemorative Stamp
Robert Frost - Commemorative Stamp | Source

Life Sketch of Robert Frost

Robert Frost's father, William Prescott Frost, Jr., was a journalist, living in San Fransisco, California, when Robert Lee Frost was born on March 26, 1874; Robert's mother, Isabelle, was an immigrant from Scotland. The young Frost spent eleven years of his childhood in San Fransisco. After his father died of tuberculosis, Robert's mother moved the family, including his sister, Jeanie, to Lawrence, Massachusetts, where they lived with Robert's paternal grandparents.

Robert graduated in 1892 from Lawrence High School, where he and his future wife, Elinor White, served as co-valedictorians. Robert thEn made his first attempt to attend college at Dartmouth College; after only a few months, he returned to Lawrence and began working a series of part-time jobs.

Elinor White, who was Robert's high school sweetheart, was attending St. Lawrence University when Robert proposed to her. She turned him down because she wanted to finish college before marrying. Robert then relocated to Virginia, and then after returning to Lawrence, he again to proposed to Elinor, who had now completed her college education. The two married on December 19, 1895. Their first child, Eliot, was born the following year.

Robert then made another attempt to attend college; in 1897, he enrolled in Harvard University, but because of health issues, he had to leave school again. Robert rejoined his wife in Lawrence, and their second child Lesley was born in 1899 . The family then moved to a New Hampshire farm that Robert's grandparents had acquired for him. Thus, Robert's farming phase commenced as he attempted to farm the land and continue his writing. His first poem to appear in print, “My Butterfly," had been published on November 8, 1894, in The Independent, a New York newspaper.

The next twelve years proved a difficult time in Frost's personal life, but a fertile one for his writing. The Frosts' first child, Eliot, died in 1900 of cholera. The couple, however, went on to have four more children, each of which suffered from mental illness to suicide. The couple's farming endeavors continued to result in unsuccessful attempts. Frost became well adjusted to rustic life, despite his miserable failure as a farmer.

Frost's writing life took off in a splendid fashion, and the rural influence on his poems would later set the tone and style for all of his works. However, despite the success of his individual published poems, such "The Tuft of Flowers" and "The Trial by Existence," he could not find a publisher for his collections of poems.

Relocation to England

It was because of his failure to find a publisher for his collections of poems that Frost sold the New Hampshire farm and moved his family to England in 1912. This moved proved to be life-line for the young poet. At age 38, he secured a publisher in England for his collection, A Boy's Will, and soon after North of Boston.

In addition to finding a publisher for his two books, Frost became acquainted with Ezra Pound and Edward Thomas, two important poets of the day. Both Pound and Thomas reviewed Frost's two book favorably, and thus Frost's career as a poet moved forward.

Frost's friendship with Edward Thomas was especially important, and Frost has remarked that the long walks taken by the two poet/friends had influenced his writing in a marvelously positive manner. Frost has credited Thomas for his most famous poem, "The Road Not Taken," which was sparked by Thomas' attitude regarding not being able to take two different paths on their long walks.

Returning to America

After World War 1 broke out in Europe, the Frosts set sail back to the United States. The brief sojourn in England had had useful consequences for the poet's reputation, even back in his native country. American Publisher, Henry Holt, picked up Frost's earlier books, and then come out with his third, Mountain Interval, a collection that had been written while Frost was still residing in England.

Frost was treated to the delicious situation of having the same journals, such as The Atlantic, soliciting his work, even though they had rejected that same work a couple of years earlier.

The Frosts once again became owners of a farm located in Franconia, New Hampshire, which they purchased in 1915. The end of their traveling days were over, and Frost continued his writing career, as he taught intermittently at a number of colleges, including Dartmouth, University of Michigan, and particularly Amherst College, where he taught regularly from 1916 until 1938. Amherst's main library is now the Robert Frost Library, honoring the long-time educator and poet. He also spent most summers teaching English at Middlebury College in Vermont.

Frost never completed a college degree, but over his entire lifetime, the revered poet accumulated more than forty honorary degrees. He also won the Pulitzer Prize four times for his books, New Hampshire, Collected Poems, A Further Range, and A Witness Tree.

Frost considered himself a "lone wolf" in the world of poetry because he did not follow any literary movements. His only influence was the human condition in a world of duality. He did not pretend to explain that condition; he only sought to create little dramas to reveal the nature of the emotional life of a human being.

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Linda Sue Grimes


    Submit a Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)