A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
This poem is probably most familiar from S.E. Hinton’s first teen novel The Outsiders and the later film based upon it. I was aware of the poem before that, but don’t know how much my response differs. My nature studies might have more influence than where I first read it, but more about that in a bit.
The most commonly accepted interpretation of this poem is as a metaphor for how perfection doesn’t last, but that barely skims the surface. The vivid sense of color, the clear imagery, the melancholy tone with a feeling of resignation at the end is what makes it memorable for me.
Color saturates this poem, most notably gold. Some people might think of the value of gold coins or jewelry and how it can grow dull with age. For me, that clashes with the nature themes. I prefer to think of the golden light of the sun, especially in early morning or the Tindall Effect of light shining through leaves. At dawn, the sky is first streaked with yellow, even in winter and the multicolored sky soon blends into a general brightness. Dawn also brings birdsong and a sense of peace and solitude before the rest of the world wakes up. A new day can mean a fresh start in one’s outlook or the chance of more possibilities.
The Biblical reference to Eden is another type of beginning, but is also a garden, the most perfect garden ever. To describe it as having “..sank to grief,” underscores the mournful tone, we grieve for what we have lost.
Botanically, this poem is completely accurate and part of why I think it so splendid. In springtime, the buds on the awakening trees are often a yellow gold. Look at forsythia bushes, which are literally covered in gold flowers. Most trees have blossoms before coming into leaf and those flowers don’t last long at all, “..only so an hour..”. In fact, reading the poem is like a verbal version of those time lapse films which show a plant with speeded up sprouting and blooming.
The line “…leaf subsides to leaf…” is the most puzzling to me. I understand it means that the brilliance of flowers have turned into leaves, which are not as flashy, but why “subsides”? Is it the monotony of green leaves, representing the sameness of everyday life?
Frost was a keen observer of nature and used it frequently in his poems, not just as a philosophical metaphor, as in this one or the fanciful “Birches”, but also as a setting, even for a vignette like “Dust of Snow”. In fact, “The Tuft of Flowers” written eight years before, was a sort of prequel to “Nothing Gold”, offering extended thoughts on the same theme, with a more detailed, specific setting.
The long lived Frost is probably best known for his recital at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, where the wind and blindingly bright sun made things difficult for him. He was Poet Laureate of the United States (1958-59) and was awarded 4 Pulitzer Prizes and the Congressional Gold Medal, among other honors over his lifetime. In one sense, he seems a very American poet, with so many farm and rural references and at other times, such as reading today’s poem, he reveals universal truths in beautiful words.
originally published in “New Hampshire:A Poem with Notes and Grace Notes” by Henry Holt and Co. 1923
You can read the entire short poem at this link Nothing Gold can Stay