Robert Frost - Nothing Gold Can Stay

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Alfred R. Ferguson writes “Perhaps no single poem more fully embodies the

ambiguous balance between paradisiac good and the paradoxically more fruitful human

good than “Nothing Gold Can Stay”, a poem in which the metaphors of Eden and the

Fall cohere with the idea of felix culpa.” (Ferguson) Felix Culpa is a Latin phrase

derived from the latin word “felix”, meaning happy, or blessed, and “culpa” meaning

fault, or fall. In literary context, this term is generally used to describe how a series of

misfortunate events may eventually lead to a positive outcome. The subject of felix

culpa in “Nothing Gold Can Stay” appears to be the cycle of life, which Robert Frost

represents through poetic imagery of nature’s endless transitory cycle from

season to season.

“Nothing Gold Can Stay” embraces the progression and growth that comes with

the first green leaf of spring, while also accepting the leaf’s fated edenic fall in all of it’s

earthly dying beauty. With each change of season comes a shift in nature’s growth,

“But in each case an emotional loss is involved in the changed conditions” (Ferguson)

Frost establishes a perception of nature’s rhythm from growth to decay as a fall, while

paradoxically attesting to nature’s metamorphosis to death as nothing more than an

apparent fall because of it’s ties with implications of loss in value or emotional wealth.

However, nature’s seasonal transitions are more so a shift in value, than a fall in value.

“Thus by the very movement and order of the poem, we are induced to accept each

change as a shift to good rather than as a decrease in value.. the sense of a fall which

is actually a part of an inherent order of nature” (Ferguson) The fact that life and death

share an identical evanescence and an equal significance in the duality of nature is the

major theme of Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay”.

The paradoxical quality of Frost’s metaphors in the opening lines of the poem

conflict purposefully to develop a parallel comparison between the cycle of the seasons

and the acts contained within the myth of Eden. “Nature’s first green is gold, Her

hardest hue to hold. Her early leafs a flower; But only so an hour.” (Frost) While the

color green bears an assurance to the flourish of new life that comes with the spring, it’s

color is described in this poem as having a hue of gold. The idea that nature’s first

green is gold and hard to hold establishes a temporary quality to the blessing of new

growth. Just as the precious metal of gold is as delicate and as evanescent as wealth

itself, the golden hue of nature’s “first green” takes on these same temporary qualities

through Frost’s paradoxical comparisons.

Robert Frost’s second comparison emphasizes nature’s first leaf as a flower. The

fact that Frost establishes the paradox of leaf being a flower as short-lived, or “only so

an hour” (Frost), appears to parallel with the paradox of green being gold before shifting

back to it’s true color. Like the predictable clockwork of nature, the poem’s paradoxes

subside as the “apparent gold hue shifts to green; and the apparent flower subsides into

leaf.” (Ferguson) The shift in value between these two characteristics of nature upholds

Frost’s thematic analogies aimed towards showcasing a part of the natural process by

which the cycle of life is completed. While continuing a sense of diminution through the

poem to adhere to the common negative perceptions on death by virtue of the stressed,

opposing analogies in “Nothing Gold Can Stay”, Frost encourages a deeper underlying

principle aimed towards accepting each natural shift in value as a necessary, and

inherent order of nature to continue the cycle of life. “The fall of the leaves is connected

to the Fall of Man, when eden sank to grief, just as the dawn inevitably goes down to...
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