Frost wrote “Nothing Gold Can Stay” in iambic trimeter, which means that each line is composed of three iambic feet. (Recall that an iamb consists of one unstressed syllabled followed by a stressed syllable, as in “to-day.”) The brevity of each line, matched with the regularity of the meter, gives the poem a quick pace. In turn, the poem’s quickness subtly emphasizes the speaker’s point about how ephemeral nature’s beauty can be—it comes and goes before you know it. Although Frost is strict in his use of iambic trimeter throughout most of the poem, he deviates from this meter in the opening and closing lines. Let’s begin with line 1:

     Na-ture’s / first green / is gold

The opening line begins with a trochee instead of an iamb and hence replaces the unstressed–stressed syllable pattern with its opposite: stressed–unstressed. After the opening trochee, Frost inserts a foot known as a spondee (stressedstressed). The double stress of the spondee results in a slower, slightly more droning delivery that subtly foreshadows the poem’s elegiac tone, which will grow increasingly melancholic over the course of its eight lines. The first line then concludes with the poem’s first official iamb, thereby establishing the rhythm that will continue for the next six lines.

Like the opening line, the closing line begins with a trochee. Unlike line 1, however, line 8 extends the rhythmic inversion by continuing with trochees:

     No-thing / gold can / stay.

The first and second feet of this line are clearly trochees. In fact, the third foot is also a trochee, but this may initially be unclear, given that the final foot is missing the unstressed syllable that we expect to hear at the very end. We can visualize this phantom syllable in the following way:

     No-thing / gold can / stay [        ].

The technical term for this kind of shortened line is catalexis (CAT-uh-LEK-sis). Two points are worth making here. First, in a poem that’s increasingly concerned not just with ephemerality but also with decline, it’s notable that the final line would shift from the rising rhythm of iambic meter to the falling rhythm of trochaic meter. As its name indicates, falling rhythm evokes a sense of downward movement, as if the poetic line is collapsing. Frost therefore uses falling rhythm to emphasize the sense of decline implied in the fact that “Nothing gold can stay.” Second, the missing syllable at the end of the line creates a powerful feeling of something cut off too soon, which further emphasizes the implication of decline.