Written by Robert Frost in 1953, this poem embodies the fleeting nature of perfection. While not being as famous as some of his other poems, this poem has entered the realm of clichés. It is often remembered for being the poem that Ponyboy quotes in the movie adaptation of S.E. Hinton’s "The Outsiders."
Written and published first in 1923, it was included in the 1924 collection New Hampshire, which won Frost the Pulitzer Prize in that year. It has also become known for its striking meaning, which is condensed within a very brief poem. Frost has also been applauded for his use of structural elements within the poem, including alliteration, which add to the experience of the poem.
Frost’s poem is written in a lyrical structure. The lines are broken up into four rhyming couplets, and each line consists of 6 syllables. This structure creates a rhythmic "sway" to the poem, while also setting the couplets together to be seen as a single idea or statement.
Frost begins by creating a vivid landscape image in the mind of the reader.
Within this first couplet, Frost creates the idea of a personified Nature as a main character of the poem. He gives Nature the female pronoun at the start of the second line, following along with the traditional idea Nature being a mother.
When describing Nature, he mentions that the "first green is gold." Typically in landscape description, green is the sign of life and freshness – in this case, Frost indicates that first sign of life is actually the color gold. This is because the New England landscapes of which Frost was writing were filled with willow and birch, whose first sign of life in the spring is actually soft, yellow flowers. Thus, while the green is the traditional symbol of life, gold was the physical symbol of Frost’s surroundings indicating that spring was beginning. He goes on to complete his idea by indicating that gold was the "hardest hue to hold," indicating the delicate nature of the early flowers and buds versus the tumultuous weather of the New England spring.
This idea of the early buds of the willow and birch continues through the second couplet. The mention of the "leafs a flower" also reiterates the delicacy of the bud versus the perceived hardiness of the leaf. However, this moment of golden delicacy is fleeting, and before long, the flowers will in fact turn into leaves. Throughout this couplet, Frost creates a feeling of sadness or regret regarding the change; the beauty of the golden flowers is sacrificed for the durability of the green leaf.
The third couplet creates a philosophical transition in the audience; to this point, the reader is focused on a description of the New England spring, but also introduces his larger observation on humanity and life.
From the earlier lines, the leaf was used to indicate the resilient life; leaves subsiding to leaves are therefore a metaphor describing the process of a person going through trials and rising above challenges. The mention of Eden is a biblical allusion representing the perfection of nature, but its "sinking" or removal coincided with a perceived sense of sadness or loss in Adam and Eve, much the same as the loss of the gold of spring creates sadness in the author. It is also indicative that Eden’s "sinking" was a direct result of "the fall of man" which brought death to mankind; in the same way, the fall brings the death of the landscape which was golden in the spring.
The author ends by moving from a seasonal metaphor to a daily metaphor. "So dawn goes down to day" is essentially a statement reflecting that while dawn is beautiful, it is not the period where clarity is found. Rather, as the day continues, it becomes easier to view ones surroundings. His conclusion is that just as all will be born pure and beautiful, it is only through living life that understanding is found.
The main theme in Frost’s poem is the belief that life is to be lived to the fullest. This is a surprising optimistic statement considering the sadness found for the changes of the first two couplets. It is notable that each of the couplets shows a transition towards maturity: the gold to green, flower to leaf, summer leaves to the autumn fall, and first observation to understanding. In each of the lines, the transition seems to be mourned, but out of the transition comes something more grand than the previous stage. In this, Frost is stating that while each transition in life results in something being lost or changes, they lead to the creation of a full life inclusive of all the emotions and experiences that humanity holds.
Frost opens the poem with a metaphorical description of the New England spring, focusing on the golden tones of the willow and birch as indications of new physical life. He continues on to note that this state is fleeting, and the flowers will grow into leaves shortly. The third couplet emphasizes that leaves, while more hardy than the flowers, will give way to outside forces and regenerate throughout their existence; this process will continue until the autumn arrives. The poet concludes by saying that just as the beauty of dawn gives way to the clarity of daylight, so the beauty of perfection gives way to the full life.
Also find the poem reading of this poem: