Nothing Gold Can Stay Meaning

What does the poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay" mean and how does it apply to Ponyboy, Johnny, and/or the story of The Outsiders?

Quick Answer

In The Outsiders, Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay” represents the fragility of innocence and goodness. The poem speaks to the temporary nature of beauty and we see this reflected in characters like Dally, whose innocence has been lost. Johnny’s dying wish is that Ponyboy will “stay gold” and retain his good nature despite the terrible events that are unfolding around him.

Expert Answers
dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Frost's poem celebrates the purity of life at its beginning ("nature's first green is gold"), and laments its impermanence ("nothing gold can stay").  When Johnny tells Ponyboy to "stay gold", he is referring to the innocence the greasers once had in common as children.  As they grow into adulthood, they lose that guilelessness and become hardened and jaded under the relentless pressures of poverty, social pressure, family instability, and violence.  Darry, whose dreams of attending college on a scholarship are dashed by the responsibility of caring for his brothers, and Dally, who has given up hope for a better life and descended into a cycle of violence and crime, are bitter examples of this, and the other greasers are not far behind.  Ponyboy is different.  He is sensitive and perceptive, and can still recognize and appreciate the beauty in a good book or a sunrise.  Johnny hopes Ponyboy can keep this ability - that he can "stay gold".

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The meaning of the poem is that the things that are most beautiful in life are also the things that have the shortest lives.  He says the first leaves of nature are their most beautiful and that Eden was the most beautiful place to live.  Neither of these beautiful things survived.

I think the clearest illustration of this in the novel is Johnny's death.  He was gold for a brief while, but then died.  On a more hopeful note, it seems that maybe Ponyboy will be different.  Maybe he will actually stay gold.  We get this hope at the end of the book because (instead of going and fighting or anything like that) he turns to writing as an outlet for his emotions.

So Johnny was not able to stay gold, but maybe Ponyboy can.

sagetrieb eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Frost’s short poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” addresses the fragility of nature, that its cycle is such that green leaves do not last forever: “leaf subsides to leaf” (he puns on the second “leaf,” so that it can be read as “leafs leave”) just as “Eden sank to grief,” meaning just as the pleasures of Eden eventually ended and humanity was thrust into the world where suffering exists. This is the fact of life that Pony learns: good things in life don’t last. In its discussion of the novel, Enotes points out that the poem speaks back to the images of sunsets in the story: “Sunsets are short….But it is possible, Pony proves, to remain true to one's self and thereby ‘stay gold.’”

alexb2 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It refers to Robert Frost's poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay" and has a profound impact on Johnny, who relates it to his own imperiled youth. Later, as he is on his deathbed, Johnny's last words are, "Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold...."

Here is the text of the poem:

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.

Basically the meaning of the poem is that innocence is something very hard to hold on to.

 Here's a short clip of the theatrical adaptation of The Outsiders, where Ponyboy recites the poem:

matsuimoto | Student

it means that when all things start out as gold since it is natures first hue for example a child, everyone is a child at some point and that “nothing gold can stay” is saying that no one is a child forever and that you should cherish your childhood fully and make the most out of it. As the poem mentions “dawn goes down to day meaning” that nothing is eternal. Also the part “her early leafs a flower but only so and hour then leaf subsides to leaf so Eden sank to grief”.  This means that flowers only bloom their fullest for only a short while then its bloom slowly starts to subside to nothing. Meaning that all things wonderful can’t stay Which is why Eden is sad. The part “Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold”
means that the best thing in life represented by gold can’t last forever represented by the second line.

mkcapen1 | Student

In the book "The Outsiders" Pony Boy tells the poem to Johnny when they are hiding.  Johnny later analyzes the poem in relation to the children.  He explains that Golden is the way children look and perceive the world before they find out about the real things and hardships.  He wants Pony Boy to stay golden.  He is implying that Pony Boy is good and innocent and should keep those qualities.

In looking at the poem in relation to the boys among the Greasers I looked at Dally first;
Dally coped with life through anger. He probably had started out like every child with hope and a need for nurturing.  He became a victim of his environment.  In the end his hour is over after the one person he loved died.  He was grieved like "Eden sank to grief." 

Soda Pop is the other character I looked at.  Soda Pop is still relatively innocent.  He is happy go lucky.  He looks to his older brother for support and he dates and works.  He is still young and has his looks and what he believes is a bright future.  However as he grows older and is existing in the rut and continues to be involved in fights, he may end up in jail or unhappy with the lack of social growth available to him.  He is the opposite of Pony Boy who is still in school and can attain better through education.  He still sees his life as "The early leaf's a flower."

Darry also fits the poem.  He had started out with the opportunity to be come something better.  He had parents and support.  He had talent in football and was accepted by the Scos.  He was golden, but his parent’s death took it away.  He had to grieve the life he left behind and become the support financially for his brothers.  He is also their emotional support as well as the one who looks after the other boys in the community.  He could have been out of the community and had a better life, but he is now trapped in his life.  "So dawn goes down to day."  Life is what it is for Darry, his life has goes from being dawn which symbolizes the beginning to the reality of what has to happen each day of his life.



hmalcolm525 | Student

This quote means that you're only a child once. Once your childhood is gone, it's gone. You can't go back. Nothing gold can stay.

galinski | Student

It is saying that nothing young and pure can stay.  Gold is seen as youth and innocence. As the greasers start to experience their own hardships (neglect, drinking, abuse, being orphans) they fade from gold and lose the innocence they once had.

ik9744 | Student

The poem means that you should stay good, pure, and young. There could be multiply meaning though. At first I thought it meant nothing good can stay.

It applies to Ponyboy since Johnny thinks that he is pure because he loves sunsets. 

hilarynguyen36 | Student

Happiness will soon go away. Enjoy what you have now or you will regret it.

Pony, Soda, and Darry lost their parents

Soda lost his pony "Mickey Mouse"

It means that everything young/ amazing eventually gets old and never stays young/ amazing, which is why Johnny's last words to Pony Boy are "Stay Gold, Pony Boy."

camila17 | Student

the meaning of this poem is that valuable things in life dont stay with you forever. so you should appreciate what you have. 

ex- pony lost his parents which were valuavle like gold.

ex- soda lost his horse which is like gold.... valuable


roosterboy18 | Student

Gold can refer to preciousness, innocence, valuable, etc. Later on when quoted, "Her early leafs a flower but only so an hour" means that it won't stay innocent or precious forever. The next line means that the thing that is "gold" will eventually turn out and become what the others like it have become. Finally, the last line ties it together saying that nothing precious, valuable, innocent will stay like it currently is forever.

It simply means that good things eventually fade away. Enjoy the things when you are young because they wont be there forever. ANd that when things get good, it doesn't last a lifetime, so cherish the moment

epollock | Student


Robert Frost's famous poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay:"

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.

explores the idea that happiness, perfection, bliss (all symbolized by gold) cannot and will not endure. The apparent paradox of line 1 is based on the fact that when buds appear in the spring, their first color is gold rather than green. 

The speaker also looks at the falling away from gold in nature, human history, and time. The leaf, humanity, and the day all begin in gold (bud, Eden, dawn) and decay quickly; perfection in any form lasts only an hour.

You can see in many characters the decay of their personal qualities or the fact that whatever qualities they do have will not last and will come to an end.

matsuimoto | Student

When Johnny tells Ponyboy to "stay gold", he is talking about the fun or friendliness the greasers once had in common as kids. As they grow older, they lose that playfulness and become hardened and cruel and loose their happy-go-luckiness’  under the circumstances of their life. For example the socs, being poor, and family issues. Darry, whose dreams of attending college on a scholarship are taken away by the responsibility of caring for his brothers, and Dally, who has given up hope for a better life and became a true hood or JD. These are examples of this.  Ponyboy is different.  He is sensitive and caring, and can still see and appreciate the beauty in a good book or a sunset. Johnny hopes Pony can keep this ability to stay a child on the inside, that he can "stay gold"

Read the study guide:
The Outsiders

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