The Outsiders Poem: Nothing Gold Can Stay by Robert Frost

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  • 0:01 'Nothing Gold Can Stay'
  • 2:14 The Outsiders Setup
  • 3:16 A Golden Moment
  • 4:50 'Stay Gold, Ponyboy'
  • 5:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Lindsey Coley
Expert Contributor
Ginna Wilkerson

Ginna earned M.Ed. degrees in Curriculum and Development and Mental Health Counseling, followed by a Ph.D. in English. She has over 30 years of teaching experience.

This lesson features an analysis of Robert Frost's poem 'Nothing Gold Can Stay.' It will look at how it connects with and helps us better understand the characters and plot of S.E. Hinton's novel 'The Outsiders.'

'Nothing Gold Can Stay'

Have you ever had a moment so perfect that you wanted to freeze it and keep it in time forever? Maybe it was a first kiss. Maybe it was the way the water on your favorite lake sparkled in the sun. Maybe it was the laugh of your first child. The moment is beautiful in its innocence and natural joy, but as much as we want to keep it, we know it's impossible. Even our memory will distort it with age.

In Robert Frost's poem 'Nothing Gold Can Stay', he describes the transient nature of the beautiful and the innocent. It reads:

'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.

By expressing that 'Nature's first green is gold,' Frost is saying that the first moments of growth, when nature is at its greenest, is nature at its finest. Think of spring and how lush the blossoms are. There is an array of bright and light colors. There is a cool breeze running across the skin that makes everything feel fresh. There is an air of hope and majesty to all the fresh and foundling beauty.

However, this is all fleeting. We know that spring cannot last, that the blossoms and the fresh growth will fade - and that it will happen quickly. In just the wink of an eye, those blossoms fall to the ground and summer takes hold with a sweaty, hot knowledge of spring lost. The blossom of spring truly is nature's 'hardest hue to hold.'

Summer, fall, and winter will all come, but nothing can be captured for long; and with the change of seasons, there is a loss that Frost's poem captures deeply. Eden loses its innocence and 'subsides to grief' as the 'dawn goes down to the day.' The only thing permanent is change, which also brings loss. Loss of spring, loss of innocence, loss of the gorgeous green leaf and all its beauty because 'nothing gold can stay.'

The Outsiders Setup

In the novel, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, we see a renegade group of wild teens called the Greasers fighting back and forth with a more socially accepted group of teenagers called the Socs (short for Socials). These groups divide along their socioeconomic status. The Greasers are poor, often with minimal to no parental guidance or discipline, living in dangerous or violent environments. The Socs are middle class or well off, coming from strong family units and more nurturing living environments.

There is a beauty to the Greasers' life that Hinton glorifies. These young men create their own families with each other, and they take care of one another. They are young and wild but bonded by their circumstances. Ponyboy Curtis is a thoughtful, somewhat innocent, 14-year-old main character who finds himself running away from town with his friend and fellow Greaser, Johnny. They are on the run because Johnny has killed a Soc who was attacking Ponyboy.

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Additional Activities

Thinking About Frost's Poem

Writing Prompts:

1) Think about the main metaphor contained in Frost's poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay." As you learned in the lesson, this metaphor says that the best things in life (the gold) generally fade or cease to be. Think about another novel besides The Outsiders to which you might apply this metaphor. Another way to approach this assignment might be to think of a story in which something (or someone) loved and depended on by the protagonist abandons or goes away from that person. Write a brief essay explaining how Frost's metaphor fits the story you've chosen.

2) In Frost's poem, the key example of comparison contained in the metaphor is the beauty of spring. Try to come up with a few other situations, places, or objects that might be used to illustrate the same concept. After you've thought of three or four ideas, choose one and try to write a short lyric poem using the metaphor. It's okay to use Frost's poem as a model of format, but use your own content.

3) Think about S.E. Hinton's use of Frost's poem and the metaphor in it to add depth to the novel's characters of Ponyboy and Johnny. Read this section of the book again and then write a short essay defending or questioning Hinton's choice of this poem. Does it do the job she intended it to do? How does it affect the reader's understanding of the two characters? How does it make clear the meaning of the novel's ending? If you take the side of the metaphor not being the best choice, what other reference point might have been used? Be sure your essay is in the prescribed format for an argumentative essay.

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