photo by Charles Edward Case

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.

Written by Robert Frost, this famous poem was first published in the Yale Review in October of 1923. The next year it was included in Frost’s collection New Hampshire, which earned him the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1924. This poem is a favorite of high school English teachers everywhere. If you didn’t run into it in class you might remember it from S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, where two of the characters in that story discuss the meaning of the verse at a time when their innocence fades.

As the seasons shift and the leaves turn during October 2020, the poem’s simple structure and rhyming scheme remind us to expand our consciousness of all that is harmonious or captivating, innocent or good; to rejoice when we find evidence of any of it, whether as magnified as a vestige of Eden before the fall or as small and simple as a flower’s bloom. The narrator’s insistence on the impermanence of all breathtaking beauty urges us to sharpen our awareness of it—and to appreciate it all the more for its limited run.

The tone of Frost’s poem is bittersweet; maybe even a bit melancholy. It is sad to see brilliance diminished, and our understanding of the impossibility of clinging to it makes our pain all the more acute. Still, and even in the desperate and chaotic times we live in now, as Christians we know that the truth in this poem is only the first part of a cycle. For just as nothing gold can stay, neither is the darkness permanent. Struggles, pain and hopelessness, while real, are also portals to new life. We may not know exactly what that life will look like or when it will arrive, but we know it is promised to us by the God who is intimately involved in all our experiences, and who embodies this promise in the light of Jesus Christ.