16 pages 32 minutes read

Robert Frost

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1923

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Summary and Study Guide


Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” was first published in 1923 in the October issue of Yale Review. That same year, the poem—along with other notable poems such as “Fire and Ice” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”—was included in Frost’s fourth collection of poetry, New Hampshire, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1924 and was the first of four wins for Frost throughout his career. In eight lines, the poem is a lyrical examination of the transience of time and cyclical element of nature, as well as a discussion on the poignant loss of innocence.

“Nothing Gold Can Stay” is considered one of Frost’s most famous poems and exhibits many of Frost’s trademarks as a poet: a focus on landscape, succinct metaphoric comparisons, and use of what Frost would call “sense of sound”—deliberate rhythm employed to create an overall feeling or tone. Frost is not easily classified in a poetic school; rather, his style firmly lands him between the 19th century poets and the Modernist poets of the early 20th century. Like the 19th century Romantic poets, Frost uses traditional rhyme and meter and nature’s inevitable change as his subject matter. However, like the Modernists, he favors succinct, everyday diction over the flowery language of his predecessors.

Poet Biography

Robert Lee Frost was born in San Francisco on March 26, 1874. His father died when he was 11 and his family settled in Lawrence, Massachusetts with his grandfather. He graduated high school in 1892, where he was honored as co-valedictorian with Elinor White. After he published his first poem in 1894 in the New York Independent, he proposed marriage to White. They married in 1895. Frost attended Dartmouth College but moved back home after a brief stay. He worked odd jobs, in a factory, as a cobbler, as an editor, and as a teacher—the last occupation he pursued throughout his long life.

In 1901, Frost was bequeathed a farm by his grandfather; he and White lived there for nine years. The Frosts had six children, two of whom died in childhood. Farming proved unsuccessful and Frost ultimately supplemented the family income with teaching. Although he attended Harvard University, he did not finish a course of study. In 1912, he moved his family to live outside London, England to further his career as a poet. A Boy’s Will, his first collection of poetry, was published the next year, and enjoyed success. During that time, Frost also met and befriended several contemporary poets: Ezra Pound lauded Frost’s work and Edward Thomas became one of Frost’s best friends.

In 1914, Frost published his second book, North of Boston, again to great success in England. However, the next year, as England became involved in World War I, the Frosts returned to New Hampshire where Frost bought another farm. By this time, Frost had developed a reputation and maintained a steady life of giving lectures and teaching. By the 1920s, he was the most celebrated poet in the United States. His dark meditations—rich in colloquial language—and realistic characters, were quintessentially American. In 1924, he published New Hampshire in which “Nothing Gold Can Stay” appeared and won the first of his four Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry, only bolstering his fame and popularity.

In 1928, Frost visited England and Paris. In the mid-1930s he published Collected Poems (1930) and Collected Verse (1933)—both won Pulitzers. However, during the 1930s and early 1940s, Frost incurred several emotional losses. A daughter died in childbirth, his wife died of heart failure, and one of his sons committed suicide. In 1938, he published West-Running Brook. Although he published collections in his later years, only The Witness Tree (1942) received the same critical acclaim of his earlier work, becoming the last work of his to win the Pulitzer Prize. Kay Morrison, with whom Frost had a long-term relationship after his wife died, is the inspiration for the love poems of The Witness Tree.

Frost remained an important literary figure throughout his life. He lived until the age of 88, teaching and writing, primarily in Massachusetts and Vermont. In 1961, he read a poem at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, the first American poet to make an inaugural address. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor from Kennedy in 1962. On January 29, 1963, Frost died in Boston. His tombstone in Old Bennington, Vermont is famously inscribed, “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.”

Poem Text

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.

Frost, Robert. “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” 1923. Poetry Foundation.


At the beginning of the poem, the speaker notices the first “green” (Line 1) of nature, which is metaphorically as valuable as “gold” (Line 1). They note that this particular color is the “hardest” (Line 2) one to keep. They repeat this observation, explaining how nature’s “early leaf” may “flower” (Line 3), but only lasts for an “hour” (Line 4). There is a sense of years going by as leaves fall again and again (Line 5). The poem expands to detail how mankind is emotionally affected by the passage of time. The speaker refers to the biblical Garden of Eden sinking into “grief” (Line 6), symbolically denoting the deep loss felt when something new or pure inevitably falls or fades.

In the final lines, the speaker suggests that this is a cyclical pattern in nature; every “dawn” must eventually succumb to “day” (Line 7). In nature, it is inevitable that nothing remains stationary forever; change is evident. The speaker highlights this by iterating the title as the last line of the poem; the end returns to the beginning as part of an ongoing cycle.