This poem breaks my heart

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

This poem breaks my heart. I thought of it today because the first forsythia shrubs are in bloom, and I’ve seen some daffodils and crocuses making their way out of the earth. Nothing gold can stay.

My husband is from New England, Robert Frost’s birthplace, and studied Frost’s poems in school. This poem has always been his favorite, and he has it memorized. But even though the lines grab a hold of me, a part of me wants to rebel against the meaning. It’s the same part of me that rebels against my husband’s more realistic view of life. And realistic really isn’t the word. I don’t want to say pessimistic or negative either. But his world view is less hopeful than mine.

Maybe that’s because I quit my teaching job and he’s still slugging it out in corporate America every day. That battle can take the wind out of anyone’s sails. But what gives me hope is not the idea that the gold really can stay. I know the forsythias will lose their buttery petals. The daffodils will brown.

The reason I accept the dying of the things around me has to do with the nature of my inner life. Like most people, I have days when taking the dog out yet again seems like an insurmountable chore, when I ask myself if I can bear to fold one more load of laundry. And it gets worse. Even if nothing bad has happened I’ll start imagining possible tragedies, like my husband having a car accident driving home on the highway in the rain. I’ll work myself into a frenzy of fear.

But that’s where my hope lies. If nothing gold can stay, nothing shriveled and wretched stays either. The dying of the gold gives us hope that our garbage may one day flower. Of course this acceptance is a daily one. Each day I find my edge, and try to balance there.

11 thoughts on “This poem breaks my heart

  1. Lirone says:

    Very touching post… reminds me of the king who wanted something that would make him sad when happy and happy when sad – and they brought him a ring inscribed with “this too will pass.”

    For myself, I love the spring blossom time… and yet I know that unless the flower falls, there will be no fruit. There is a beauty and a strength in learning from experience. Even bitter experiences and dark times.


  2. carolee says:

    have you heard the quote: “it is a fearful thing to love what death can touch”? or something like that. i’ve bumped into a few times in the last few months (once on natalie goldberg’s recording Zen Howl), which is no wonder. those things come to us when we need them. but that’s what i think of when i read this post.

    i’ve always struggled with robert frost. i am also from new england, and he was sort of crammed down our throats as an example of what a poet is, as an example of what poetry is. i think it’s probably why i didn’t think i was a poet for the longest time, because i wasn’t like him. (and even though his writing is beautiful and the details are incredible, he doesn’t get me all hot for poetry. i needed that heat back then. ok, i still do.)

    thanks for talking about this piece — i love hearing what poems do to people!


  3. jillypoet says:

    I have this ongoing argument with my mother, that “day lillies most certaily do not open only one day of their lives, then die.” “Yes,” she says, the woman who grew up on a farm in the country and knows so much more than I do about life. I love how you are able to take a despair for the loss of the gold, and turn it around to see that there is promise in the shriveled. You are so wise. And balanced.


  4. christine says:

    Lirone, thanks for sharing that story. Is it a Grimm’s Fairy Tale?

    Carolee, you’re a fun blogging friend. I’m glad my musings over Frost were good for you to hear. I wonder if either of us would like Camille Paglia’s new poetry anthology?

    Jill, you need to write a poem about your mom and the lilies. It’s asking to be written. I’m not really very wise. I’ve had a few major crashes in my life, so I try not to let myself hit rock bottom, you know what I mean?


  5. Rethabile says:

    Frost will do that to you. And I absolutely agree with your take on this one. Nothing gold can stay? Nothing rusty can stay, either.

    We’ll shine it, or recycle it (I couldn’t help saying that).


  6. Deb says:

    It’s a beautiful turn.

    Thank you for putting it into words for me, today. Our forsythia has not yet budded, but I look at a short glimmer of gold light on morning boughs and think similar thoughts.

    (My world is crocus faded against leaf litter these days.)

    (I’d like Lirone’s source, too. Familiar to my ear, but unnamed.)


  7. odessa says:

    oh christine, this such a wonderful reflection. i’m like carolee, i don’t get all excited and fired up for frost. but i do love your take on it. definitely something to think about.


  8. Joyce Ellen Davis says:

    This one of XJ Kennedy’s breaks mine: ELEGY FOR A CHILD WHO JUMPED ROPE

    Here lies resting, out of breath,
    out of turns, Elizabeth,
    whose quicksilver feet not quite
    cleared the whirring edge of night.

    Earth, whose circles round us spin
    ’til they catch the lightest limb,
    shelter now Elizabeth
    and for her sake, trip up Death.


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