SPRING’S FIRST GREEN IS GOLD
The actual words of Robert Frost’s amazing eight-line poem are:
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.
However the first word, “Nature” has been turned to “spring” in many memories, likely because the word “Nature” often has the stress on the first syllable, which slightly alters the wonderful rhythm of the poem. (If, rather than NAY-churz, you say nay-CHURZ, the poem is more musically correct.)
Robert Frost likely simply had an “ear” for the sound of his poem. If he wanted to begin the poem with a skip, before the plodding iambs, it was his prerogative, the same way it was his prerogative to have seven syllables in the third and forth lines, even as he himself created a six-syllable-per-line criterion.
To be frank, professors of poetry know next to nothing of the laws of poetry, unless they are poets themselves, and even then knowing the law tends to get in the way more than it helps.
It is only after the fact, looking at what “sounded right,” that amazing things are seen by the intellect, even if the intellect is as professional as a proffessor’s.
For example, among other symmetries, this poem has the second line, and also the second-to-last line, utilize alliteration. “Hardest Hue to Hold,” and “Dawn goes Down to Day.” Mechanically, this is the effect of a mirror image, or a reflection on water, but did Frost do it because he was mechanical, or because it sounded wicked cool?
He did change the ending, to include the second alliteration. It is dangerous meddle with a completed poem, but in this case Frost got away with it, which suggests to me that Frost added the alliteration and symatry because it sounded wicked cool.
You see, classical training can help, but is an after-the-fact study of what already is. Poetry itself is fresh and new, and belongs to the young and young-at-heart.
For poetry professors to become puffed up, and think their understanding of mere mechanics is more important than even their most naïve student’s gushing heart, is like a paintbrush thinking it is more important than the sunrise, (when an artist wants to paint a sunrise.)
The sunrise is beautiful in and of itself. It stirs us, inspires us, whether we attempt to capture it or not. But, if we attempt to capture it, what are we attempting to capture? A robot could take a perfect picture, but would that capture what is stirred within us?
A robot can’t take a picture of the stirring in our heart, and that stirring, so flagrant in youth and, all too often, so withered and sterilized in the old, is what poetry is all about.
That stirring is a reflection of the sunrise, if a sunrise inspires it. It is a heart impressed by the sunrise, and involves a mingling and merging with the sunrise, just as a lake’s waters reflects the sunrise, although water is different from the sun. Just as a lake or ocean can double the beauty of a sunrise, (and double the sunburn,) it intensifies the intense. It is a splendid harmony, a communing with nature, and even is a sort of marriage.
“A marriage between who and who?” inquires the dreary intellect, but it is a marriage beyond intellect. It is intangible, a marriage between the singer and the song, between a vast and infinite Creator, and an iota of finite creation.
Because it is made of such high and mighty stuff, it contains high and mighty harmony, which the young poet only understands is wicked cool. The intellectual professor can later point out this and that about the structure of the resultant iambs, but the young poet knows nothing of such things. Nor does the old poet, when he is young at heart.
What, then, is the purpose of classical training? (And of dreary poetry professors?)
The most classical of the classical was Bach, but he didn’t let understanding the trivia of how harmony happens get in the way of making harmony.
Unfortunately, the more average minds allow understanding to become petty, and a limitation. The more they understand how something is done, the less they are able to do it.
This can only occur because they attach more importance to understanding than to doing, and this, in turn, can only occur because they become fatheaded about their own understanding. They didn’t create the sunrise, but they take credit for it. The ego drags them down from the high to the low, from light to shadow, from the other worldly to the crap of this world.
How far some professors have fallen! the worst demand job security, higher wages, and that young students sleep with them. Then, in their private moments, they wonder why their lives have become so artless.
How opposite was Beethoven, who lost even his hearing, but kept in touch with harmony? And how different was what Beethoven produced, from what the worst poetry professors produce?
I feel sorry for Robert Frost, because he had to become a poetry professor, which, for a poet, can be the same thing as deafness is for a person who loves music. Furthermore I thank God I escaped that horrible fate, and instead lived as a poet who was never recognized as a poet, but rather as a good guy to work with when washing dishes, or flipping burgers, or shoveling stables, or singing in a small town church choir, or canning herring, or delivering beer, or any of the other many, many jobs I have held.
I can’t take credit for the fact I retain hearing that Beethoven lost, nor can I take credit for having independence that Robert Frost lost. I just got lucky, (though I did not know it at the time.) However I will take credit for taking offence to the conclusion to Robert Frost’s great poem, back when I was a young poet aged eighteen.
The final line, “Nothing gold can stay,” is a sort of truth: Once I was young, and in a way golden, but now I am sixty, and in a way grey. However that is not the end. Nor is that the truth, in the highest sense. If losing such a shallow springtime was truly an end, than the aging of Beethoven’s ability to hear would have ended his ability to make music, however if anything deafness improved his ability.
The fact of the matter is that, in the very end, (what Robert Frost called, “In The Clearing,”) you see that what is gold is not lost and instead does stay.
What we call reality, here on earth, is but a fleeting thing. It involves things that don’t matter a hill of beans in heaven, (and heaven is what true poetry mirrors.) However poetry professors forget the source, and instead are experts on what is done on earth but not in heaven.
To them, spring is a reminder of what they lost, when they sold their birthright for a mass of pottage.
To me, spring is a reminder of what I live for, and of what will someday be, on earth, as it is in heaven.