The most prominent symbol in Frost’s poem is gold. Gold appears in the title and both the opening and closing lines. In each case it symbolizes something particularly precious or beautiful that, though prized, ultimately cannot retain its beauty. The first time the word appears, the speaker refers not to the precious metal but to the color (lines 1–2):

     Nature’s first green is gold,
     Her hardest hue to hold.

Here, the speaker appears to be saying that when new buds (i.e., “Nature’s first green”) first emerge with the coming of spring, they are often gold in color. However, this golden color is the “hardest hue to hold,” and as buds continue to grow, they change color. It is therefore only for a brief and tender moment that gold appears. In the lines that follow, the speaker continues to meditate on how further transformations—from bud to flower to leaf—yield additional forms of loss. By the poem’s end, the speaker concludes with what we might consider their thesis statement: “Nothing gold can stay” (line 8). Which is to say: everything that is most precious and beautiful—that is, symbolically gold—is bound to be ephemeral.


Whereas the speaker initially uses gold to symbolize the precious beauty of new life just starting to emerge, they use the flower to symbolize life at the peak of its maturity. In their characteristically pessimistic way, the speaker emphasizes the brevity of the flower’s existence (lines 3–4):

     Her early leaf’s a flower;
     But only so an hour.

In other words, the early blossoms that make spring so beautiful only last for a short time before they wilt and fall to the ground. Though these blossoms have a short existence, they play an enormously important ecological role. In winter, plants go dormant and save up their energy for spring, at which point they channel that energy into new growth. New buds on many plants grow into fragrant blossoms that attract pollinators, which in turn help those plants reproduce themselves. The blossoms are therefore organs of sexual reproduction and hence indicate fertility. Here, it’s important to note that English-language literature has long linked the image of the flower with female sexuality. Indeed, the word “flower” has often been used as a euphemism for “vagina.” In this sense, the flower in Frost’s poem also symbolizes feminine sexuality—both its beauty and fertility, as well as its inevitable decline.


In lines 6–7, the speaker makes a passing reference to the biblical Garden of Eden:

     So Eden sank to grief,
     So dawn goes down to day.

In making this allusion to Eden, the speaker also implicitly references the story of the Fall. In the Bible, Adam and Eve commit the first sin by going against God’s decree not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Unable to quell their curiosity, they take an illicit piece of fruit from the Tree and eat it. This act has massive consequences. Not only does it lead to their expulsion from Eden, but it’s also the reason that, according to some denominations of Christianity, all humans are born in a state of original sin. In this way, the speaker’s reference to Eden specifically references the decline of humanity from its ideal state in the first garden paradise. However, Eden also stands in the poem as a broader symbol for how no ideal state can persist forever, nor can any perfect beauty endure for all time.