I don’t know if you’ve ever read The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. It’s wonderful. I reviewed it briefly here after I read it for work. It’s one of the genre-defining novels of Young Adult Literature. It deals with how to find your identity, how to be true to yourself, and how to hang on to your self-worth in a world that isn’t necessarily on your side. It’s probably about more than that. It’s a pretty tragic book, but perfectly tragic– no gratuitous emoting here. Do yourself a favor and pick it up if you haven’t already. The payoff is worth the heartache, and it’s a quick read.
In The Outsiders, a character named Ponyboy (yeah, it’s a weird name) faces a difficult situation. He’s a really good guy, this Ponyboy, and he comes to a sad end. As he’s facing this, he says to his friend, the narrator, “Stay golden.” (Or maybe it’s “stay gold.” I can’t lay my hands on the book at this moment to check.) This punk kid, this nobody, is referring to this Robert Frost poem., turning Frost’s words against him in an act of true rebellion. (Ponyboy, Johnny, and their friends have a reputation for being worthless troublemakers. Ponyboy, calling on this poem, claims that, in fact, he is not worthless, that he does have an authentic self that he will define for himself, thankyouverymuch.) He’s trying to give the narrator some hope. Frost claims that “nothing gold can stay,” but Ponyboy wants to hang on to that golden green growing feeling his whole life, and he wants that for his friend as well.
Ever since reading The Outsiders, Frost’s poem seems less bitter and more elegiac. Sad, still, but sadness put to good purpose. When I read his poem now, I’m reminded of a dying boy’s parting words to his friend: “Stay Golden.”
Read the book (I haven’t ruined it even though I’ve given it away.). Here’s the poem.
Nothing Gold Can Stay
by Robert Frost
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.
And here’s a video, if you’re into that sort of thing.
And if you’re in the mood for a genuinely cheery poem by Frost, here’s last year’s.