illustrated portrait of American poet Robert Frost

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Compare the imagery and tone in Robert Frost's "Nothing Gold Can Stay" and "The Road Not Taken".

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The tone of the poems is accepting. The author doesn't judge the events or individuals in them.

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Both poems make use of nature imagery , as the other educator wrote. In "Nothing Gold Can Stay," "Nature's first green" makes us visualize spring and the explosion of green that occurs when winter finally ends. "Her early leaf's a flower" is another visual image that conjures pictures of flowers...

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blooming and leaves unfurling. In the penultimate line, "dawn goes down to day," we can see the sunset, and the final line, "Nothing gold can stay," helps paint the sunset golden, as we see the warm light fading into the horizon. The imagery is all visual. Likewise, in "The Road Not Taken," the few images we have are visual as well. The speaker comes upon "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood," and we can see the golden leaves of the fall trees. One road bends "in the undergrowth" and the other is "grassy and wanted wear," and we can imagine the sight of these pretty clearly. Further, "both that morning equally lay / In leaves no step had trodden black" presents another image of the roads, covered with fresh, crisp leaves. In both poems, the images used are symbols as well, which makes them weigh heavily with meaning.

Tone describes the author's feelings toward the subject, and the tone of "Nothing Gold Can Stay" could be described as acknowledging an inevitability. Frost doesn't render the loss of innocence and beauty in an emotional way, as some would. This isn't a tragic loss in the poem but is conveyed in a rather matter-of-fact tone. In "The Road Not Taken," Frost seems to withhold judgment of the narrator. The narrator appears, in the final stanza, to plan to lie. He will tell people, a long time from now, that he "took the [road] less traveled by"; however, we know that there is no road less traveled. He said earlier that the second was "just as fair" as the first, and that "the passing there / Had worn them really about the same," and, finally, that "both that morning equally lay / In leaves no step had trodden black." In other words, then, about the same number of people have taken each road. But the speaker says that he will claim to have taken the road that fewer people have traveled (which does not exist) "has made all the difference in his life." Does he want people to think that he made unique choices and that he is special? Will he lie to protect others' hopes that such uniqueness is possible? Or, is he simply a human being who wants to believe that our choices have a significant impact on our lives (even if they don't)? It isn't clear, and so Frost seems to treat him with acceptance, because all of these are possibilities of the narrator's plans. Frost appears to refrain from judgment of the narrator, despite his plan to be less than truthful. You might, therefore, describe the tone as accepting or nonjudgmental. In both poems, the tone is decidedly lacking in emotion; Frost seems to accept that, though one might wish it to be different, both the loss of innocence/beauty and the desire to believe that one's choices were significant in the course of one's life (even if they weren't) are inevitable and not blameworthy occurrences.

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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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