Stay Gold: Robert Frost and First Poems

Today’s guest blog post is by Jennifer Harbster, a research and reference specialist in the Library’s Science, Technology, and Business Division. This is a special post for both of us: Jen is also a blogger for the Library at the Inside Adams blog, which swapped bloggers this week with From the Catbird Seat to pay homage to the intersections between poetry and science. Check out Inside the Adams here for a guest post on the place of poetry in science.

I know I am not alone when I say that there is one poem that travels with you throughout your life. You connect to it. It awakens a memory and evokes an awareness of yourself and the world around you. You had to memorize that poem so you could keep it safely tucked away in your head (and heart). Once there, you could bring it out anytime you needed it. I can still remember the day I heard the poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost. I was around 11 years old and watching the classic coming-of-age movie The Outsiders (1983). This was the first and only poem I ever memorized, and thirty years later I can still recall the very moment it became a part of me.

Robert Frost
Courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

If you were an adolescent growing up in the 1980s, The Outsiders was probably one of your favorite movies, and still might be. Not only is the movie filled with the teenage heartthrobs of the day—Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Ralph Macchio and Emilio Estevez, to name a few—but it also is a story with a moral lesson that featured the conflict of two rival gangs (the greasers and the “socs” or socials) and the killing of one of the “socs” by a greaser.

There is a scene in the movie when the lead character, Pony Boy (C. Thomas Howell) recites Frost’s poem to his friend Johnny (Ralph Macchio) at sunrise. The landscape is still dark, but there are “gold and silver” glimmers of light. I must commend director Francis Ford Coppola, who created the perfect backdrop to recite this poem: eerie and visceral with the transcending beauty of the rising sun. Maybe it was the setting or the emotions of the characters, but this poem changed my life. I grew up during those 15 seconds as the poem was being recited and the words became glued to my memory.

At the time The Outsiders was showing, my world revolved around Judy Blume books, and like most girls, I wrote poetry in my diary filled with rhyming words about boys and flowers. My only exposure to poetry then was Shel Silverstein’s sharp wit. So when I learned that the Outsiders movie was based on a book of the same name by S. E. Hinton, I naturally went to the library and checked it out (as well as her other books That was Then…This is Now, Rumble Fish, and Tex, which also became movies). I also began collecting the poetry books of Robert Frost; I read them front to back throughout my teenage and adulthood years. The next poem I attempted to memorize was Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken,” but I could only remember the last lines: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I- / I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.”

Sun Rising Over the Capital
Courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division

I read more poetry: Longfellow, Emerson, Whitman, and even Jim Morrison (lead singer for the Doors). Although I enjoyed it, I never memorized any of their poems in full. Though I could recite specific lines or stanzas.

There has never been a poem that spoke to me like Frost’s Nothing Gold Can Stay.” At forty years of age, this poem is still with me and I believe it changed my entire outlook on life and made me into the person I am today. Those eight lines taught me to appreciate the fleeting beauty in sunsets, sunrises, and shooting stars. At the same time, I acknowledge that life is transforming all around me. I also need to recognize the bare trees in winter. In spring the leaves will be back.

6 Comments

  1. Amy W.
    June 5, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    Thank you for taking me down memory lane as you highlighted such a beautiful poem.

  2. Ed Zahniser
    June 6, 2013 at 9:39 am

    great testimony of poetry in “coming of age”.

    thanx so much for sharing so eloquently

  3. Maren
    June 15, 2013 at 11:39 am

    thanks for such an enjoyable post.

  4. Artemis Craig
    July 12, 2013 at 11:32 pm

    The Outsiders is one of my favorite books and I enjoyed the movie as well. You captured what I enjoyed most and I could hear Pony Boy saying, “Nature’s first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold, Her early leaf’s a flower, But only so for and hour, Then leaf subsides to leaf. So Eden sank to grief. So dawn goes down to day. Nothing gold can stay.” Thank so much for the memories..

  5. vivian allan
    August 6, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    I too grew up in the 80′s and this poem has stuck with me since I first heard it in 1984 for my English class. I had to explain at the time what it meant to me as our English teacher was teaching us perspective and at the time it meant to me that everyday is a new day and that even though the sun set every day and the gold of the sun went away a new dawn would come every morning no matter what and would give us an opportunity to do good in the world. Today I mourn the loss of a good friend that grew up with us in the 80′s and have a lot of great memories including this poem which I will share at his funeral if I have the opportunity to do so. Thank you

  6. Ian Willmott
    December 3, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    I can relate to everything you have written. The poem is to this day, the only one i have ever been able to recite from memory and it reminds me so much of my youth, and it feels me with calm when ever i say it to myself. thankyou for stirring the memory within.

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