Poetry Analysis “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” by Robert Frost, is a simple but eloquent examination of the “impermanence of life and fleeting nature of beauty” (Bovey). This theme is successfully integrated into The Outsiders, a coming of age film about two rival youth gangs. The theme of the poem is that everything is transitory. The film’s main message discusses the inevitability of the loss of youth and innocence.
The poem is perfectly utilized in the film because they both focus on the idea that nothing can last forever. Robert Frost was a renowned American poet during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. He was well-known for his depiction of “realistic New England life through language and situations familiar to the common man” (“Robert Frost Biography”). Frost was born on March 26th, 1874. He remained undiscovered until his return to New England at the beginning of World War I. Critics have often noticed a dark undertone to Frost’s poems. He was influenced by the time period in which he was writing, around World War I. Not only did the agony and despair of war contribute to this undertone of sadness, but Frost himself suffered tremendous loss and grief. He lost his father at a very young age, and both his mother and firstborn son in 1900.
In addition to this, Frost lost his sister, another one of his sons, and his daughter. Later, he lost his wife as well. Not surprisingly, Frost suffered from depression because of all of these continual hardships (“Robert Frost”). Naturally, he expressed his pain in his work, as his poems “often deal with the irreversible change of seasons and the mutability of things” (Liebman).“Nothing Gold Can Stay” is an example of a poem that reflects Robert Frost’s cynical and dark view of life. It is also an example of how he utilizes an everyday observation of nature to express an idea with a deeper meaning. On the surface, it is just a simple poem about the shifting seasons and the cycle of nature. Examining more closely, the readers see a more profound comment on the fleeting nature of life, youth, beauty, innocence, and nature. The poem opens by describing the colors of nature and states that nature is first gold, then green. In other words, the first signs of life seen on a tree are its yellowish buds, even before the green leaves appear. That ephemeral gold color does not last long. The alliteration used in the line, “her hardest hue to hold” (line 2), mimics breath sounds, reiterating the transient nature of life.
In lines two and three, Frost refers to nature as “her” to subtly create an image of Mother Nature. She is trying to hold onto the perfection of new life, which first appears as a golden flower. The hyperbole, “but only so an hour” (line 4), exaggerates the quickness of the passage of time. Even the perfection of the Garden of Eden could not escape the effects of time. “So Eden sank to grief” (line 6) is an allusion to the fall of Adam and Eve. Even ideal situations eventually fade. “So dawn goes down to day” (line 7) emphasizes that every morning becomes day, and eventually every day must come to an end. The most notable phrase repeats the title “nothing gold can stay” (line 8). Gold can represent different ideas: youth, beginning, purity, beauty. By ending his poem this way, Frost is highlighting the message that nothing can last forever. “Nothing Gold Can Stay” successfully captures the central theme of the movie, The Outsiders, in one eight-line poem. This famous movie is about two opposing gangs known as the Socials and the Greasers. The Greasers are poor, troubled youths with little stability in their family lives. They are perceived as the dregs of society compared to the high-class, educated Socials.
The Greasers learn through their struggles that innocence must come to an end. The two main Greasers, Ponyboy and Johnny, are golden. They are good, pure of heart, innocent. Even Cherry, one of the Socials, describes them as “too sweet looking to scare anyone” (Coppola). However, the realities of gang life forced Johnny to take action when Ponyboy’s life was threatened. He stabbed and killed one of the Socials. Afterwards, he was traumatized and could not stop staring at the bloody knife in his hands. Similarly, Ponyboy is equally as scared and throws up from the sight of all of the blood. Ponyboy and Johnny have to run away to an abandoned church in Windrixville and change their hair to avoid being recognized. “Nothing Gold Can Stay” first appears after this series of events. At the abandoned church, Johnny is admiring the sunset and notices how “gold” and “pretty” it is and how he wishes it could stay that way all of the time. At this instance, the audience notices that “there is a constant struggle between transience and the longing for the everlasting” (Fagan).
When Ponyboy recites the poem, Johnny responds powerfully because it accurately articulates his emotions. Ponyboy recognizes that he could not tell any of the other gang members about the “clouds and sunsets,” only Johnny, Sodapop, and perhaps Cherry. These characters are different because they are genuine, compassionate, and admirable. Frost’s poem is perfectly placed at this point in the movie. It explicitly introduces the idea that nothing good can last forever at the exact time the two purest characters in the movie had just lost their innocence. Neither of the boys had ever taken part in that level of violence. The poem’s placement highlights the evancent of life and the fleeting nature of youth and innocence. It serves to foreshadow the ultimate loss: the deaths of Johnny and Dally. The second encounter with the poem is when Johnny is on his deathbed. Johnny dramatically uses his last breath to quote the poem back to Ponyboy by saying “stay gold Ponyboy, stay gold” (Coppola).
Here, Johnny is encouraging him to stay strong and not let the challenges of life defeat him. “Golden,” in this case, means innocent. Ponyboy is genuine and more compassionate than the other members of the gang. Johnny’s hope is that Ponyboy will remain true to himself and what makes him good. This final line to Ponyboy gives the audience reason to believe that Ponyboy will make it. Despite the idea that everything will come to an end, the viewers are hopeful that Ponyboy will remain gold. While the golden sunset signifies the ending of the day, there will always be another sunrise. Everyday is a new day with new potential. The boys wish that the sunset would last forever, but they are appreciating the beauty and power of its colors even as it comes to an end. This echoes the message of the poem that although it is regrettable that every beautiful thing must die, there is simultaneously the hope of a new beginning (Shrestha). In this way, the movie adds a layer of meaning that poem does not provide. It softens the harshness of the statement, “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”
The third and final time that the poem is mentioned is when Ponyboy reads Johnny’s letter in the very last scene of the movie. He reads:“…I’ve been thinking about it, and that poem, that guy that wrote it. He meant, you’re gold when you’re a kid, like green. When you’re a kid everything’s new, dawn. Like the way you dig sunsets Pony, that’s gold. Keep it that way; it’s a good way to be. I want you to ask Dally to look at one. I don’t think he’s ever seen a sunset. There’s still lots of good in the world. Tell Dally; I don’t think he knows. Your Buddy, Johnny’ (Coppola).The filmmakers chose to refer to the poem at the end of the movie to emphasize the theme. Johnny’s letter is revealed after his death, and its message makes it clear that although “nothing gold can stay,” it is still important to focus on the good in the world. Ironically, the “gold” that cannot stay is Johnny. His life has come to an end.Robert Frost’s poem was extremely effective in the film. The use cinematography especially contributed to its meaningful impact. While the poem was being recited, a soft wind was blowing through Ponyboy’s newly golden hair. The sunset paints the sky with brilliant hues of pink, gold, and purple. Birds chirping and wind blowing in the background harmonize with dulcet music. As the poem progresses, the camera zooms in slowly on Ponyboy’s face, lending drama to the moment.
The background was blurred so that the boys and the sunset were the central focus. The rhythm and language of the poem itself is appealing, and the treatment of the poem in this scene makes it even more so. Aside from the compelling cinematography, in only eight lines the poem was successful in captivating the theme of the entire movie. Although, this poem is more difficult to understand when listening instead of reading, Ponyboy recites it slowly and clearly to help the audience understand the words and the meaning of the poem. Also, Johnny asks questions to slow down their discussion of its significance.
Finally, Johnny’s letter further clarifies, line by line, the essence of the poem. He is applying Frost’s individual words and phrases to the boy’s particular situation. This adds to the effectiveness of the poem in the film because it simplifies the meaning for the audience. If there was any doubt or confusion in the minds of the viewers prior to the final scene, it is eliminated by Johnny’s explanation of the poem. The language of the poem contributes to its function in the film in a variety of ways. Frost personifies nature in order to clarify his message and make it more relatable. This is mirrored in the movie because nature is featured in the main scene where the poem is being read. In the fourth line, “but only so an hour,” Frost uses hyperbole to exaggerate how fast time passes. This eight-line poem uses iambic trimeter in most of the poem. The rhyme scheme of the couplets is ABAB. Frost’s poems often rhyme, and here the repetitive rhythm of rhyme and meter mimic the continual cycles of nature.While “Nothing Gold Can Stay” is a very effective poem in the movie, the screenwriter could also have chosen a different poem by Robert Frost. “The Road Not Taken” has a related theme in that it stresses how choices affect life. In the poem, the speaker is unable to choose between two different paths. He regrets that he cannot take both. He chooses the one that he believes is “less traveled.” However, it becomes clear that all choices have consequences. People are faced with choices every day in life.
Likewise, in the movie, Johnny chooses to kill a Social. The fact that he does this to save Ponyboy is irrelevant here. He chooses to murder someone, and therefore must face the consequences of his actions including losing his innocence and being forced to run away. He also chooses to run into a burning church to save children, ultimately resulting in his death. Additionally, Dally chooses to rob a convenience store with a gun. Although the gun is not loaded and he is distraught over Johnny’s death, Dally makes a poor choice and he dies as a result of it. Another example of the importance of choices is when Darry opts to stay home and take care of his brothers after the death of their parents. This mean that he must give up on his dream of attending college. Ponyboy could be “telling this [story] with a sigh somewhere ages and ages hence.” In other words, at some point in the future, he could be looking back with sadness or regret as he realizes that his friends’ choices set in motion the remaining events of their lives. This poem would have also made an impact in the film.
Choices are critical to the ultimate outcome to life’s journey.The screenwriter chose to use Frost’s poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” for several reasons. The most important is the parallels between the thematic elements of the poem and the film. Both treat the ideas of loss, impermanence, and change. The movie refines the general concept that everything must come to an end by applying it to the loss of innocence of the main characters. Whether it is nature, innocence, youth, beauty, or life itself, “nothing gold can stay.”