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Both poems, like so much of Frost’s work, are rich in nature imagery. However, ‘The Road Not Taken’ paints a definite picture of a traveller passing through a wood, whereas the second poem refers to nature in more general terms rather than using a specific setting. Both poems however contain references to leaves; the ‘yellow wood’ of ‘The Road Not Taken’ immediately makes us think of autumn. Similarly, in ‘Nothing Gold Can Stay’, we are presented with imagery of fading flowers and ‘leaf subsiding to leaf’.
Nature is used as a metaphor in both poems for the passing of time and the dwindling away of possibilities in human life. 'The Road Not Taken' is concerned more with the choices one has to make in life and how, once set upon one’s course, one cannot return to an earlier time and sense of possibility. Having settled on one road, the speaker tries to tell himself that he will re-visit the other road in future. However, he continues:
Yet, knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
The speaker realises, then, that once set on his path, he is unlikely ever to have the opportunity to undo his choice; he cannot turn the clock back. He knows, too, that he will very probably regret his choice in future, he will look back to it ‘with a sigh’, but he won’t be able to change it.
‘The Road Not Taken’ is quite expansive and somewhat ponderous in tone as the speaker reflects on his choices. The other poem is noticeably more concise and blunt in manner, stating things baldly rather than dwelling on them. This poem is concerned more with images of youth and fertility than the first poem. In essence, though, the theme is the same: that the ‘gold’ of possibility and of life itself, cannot remain; youth must wear away and ultimately die, and life's potential is eventually exhausted.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Here (and unlike ‘The Road Not Taken’) the poem employs a familiar bit of religious imagery with the reference to ‘Eden’, denoting the fall from primal innocence and joy into ‘grief’; the ‘dawn’ of youthful promise gives way to the ‘day’ of harsh adult realities.
Although dealing with broadly the same theme and using similar nature imagery, the two poems are different in approach and tone. ‘The Road Not Taken’ casts a speaker who muses on the course of his life and mourns lost opportunities; ‘Nothing Gold Can Stay’ simply states that all human potential is destined to fade away. Although on this level this poem is quite matter-of-fact in tone, the imagery it employs of fading gold and waning dawn arguably creates a more powerful overall sense of melancholy than the relatively prosaic, conversational style of 'The Road Not Taken'.
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