Nothing Gold Can Stay. Collection – New Hampshire. 1923

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.

In Frost’s own words: ‘I am not a Nature poet.’ Most of his poems begin with an observation of Nature. He uses Nature as a metaphor to write about human concerns, thoughts and feelings.

In Nothing Gold Can Stay, he talks of the ephemeral nature of things that makes them precious. The desire of human beings to hold on to things that are momentary or short lived – a vibrant rainbow, a pink sunset, or the pale green (almost yellow) of the fresh leaves – is central to the understanding of this poem.

Symbolism

The very first leaves in Spring are almost gold in color – but do not stay that way for long. Then the leaf turns into a flower that too does not last. The plant perishes. The joys of Eden did not last for the dwellers. Every new day comes to a close. Only change and end is inevitable.

This is also a symbol for life. ‘Nature’s first green’ or gold (the purest) is symbolic of childhood which we cannot hold on to and it quickly vanishes. ‘Early leaf’s flower’ tells us that soon childhood flowers into youth. But youth too does not last. Eden, symbolic of adulthood, leads to old age and the sunset stands for death.

Theme

Precious things and precious moments are short-lived. They are precious because they are short lived. Nothing that is precious can stay on forever. So while we must appreciate things and times while they last and we must also understand that they must end. We must learn to let go. Elsewhere, in Reluctance, he has depicted this struggle of man:

Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?

To me, this also has an association with Maya in Hinduism. Maya means illusion – something that cannot be possessed, the Hindu term for this material world. Maya represents the human dilemma of being caught up in the illusion of the material world, and failing to recognize the actual unity of atman (the individual) with Brahman (the universal ‘All’).  Maya is the illusion in which our everyday consciousness becomes entangled and we must be seen through it in order to achieve moksha (liberation of the soul from the cycle of death and rebirth).

Color connotation

Gold across cultures is a symbol of purity (hence the saying – ‘heart of gold’). So the association with ‘first green’, ‘early leaf’, ‘Eden’ and ‘dawn’.

Came across this joke on the web.

A rich man was near death, and became very upset because he had worked so hard for his money and he wanted to take it with him to heaven. So he began to pray that he might be able to take some of his wealth along. An angel heard his plea and appeared to him.

“Sorry,” the angel said, “but you can’t take your wealth with you.” The man implored the angel to speak to God to see if He might bend the rules. The man continued to pray that his wealth could follow him.

The angel reappeared and informed the man that God had decided to allow him to take one suitcase with him. Overjoyed, the man got his largest suitcase, filled it with pure gold bars and placed it beside his bed. Soon afterward the man died and showed up at the gates of heaven to greet St. Peter.

St. Peter, seeing the suitcase, said, “Hold on, you can’t bring that in here!” The man explained to St. Peter that he had permission and told him to verify his story with God.

St. Peter checked and came back saying, “You’re right. You are allowed one carry-on bag, but I’m supposed to check its contents before letting it through.” He opened the suitcase to inspect the worldly items that the man found too precious to leave behind and exclaimed, “You brought pavement?”



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