Embracing Spring with Robert Frost
“At present I am living in Vermont”— Robert Frost, from his poem “New Hampshire” (1922)
One hundred years ago, Robert Frost and his family moved to South Shaftsbury, Vermont, just a few miles north of Bennington. Frost lived in Shaftsbury until the death of his wife, Elinor, in 1938. She is buried in the Bennington Centre Cemetery behind the Old First Church in Old Bennington; so is he, under a stone with an epitaph from one of his poems: “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.” If that line is not familiar to you, this one probably is: “Whose woods these are I think I know.” It’s the opening of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” which Frost wrote one summer morning in 1922 at his Shaftsbury farmhouse. He said the poem came to him “like a hallucination.”
Each year many of Frost’s admirers make a pilgrimage to his gravesite and also visit the Robert Frost Stone House Museum, housed in his former Shaftsbury home. This year, if current plans hold, the Bennington Museum will be presenting a major exhibition about Frost’s life in Vermont that is slated to open August 15. The exhibit will highlight Frost’s relations with the artistic community that welcomed the poet and his family in the 1920s. Original manuscripts of some of Frost’s poems and first editions of the volumes they appeared in will be on display.
Many of Frost’s poems relate to the New England seasons. One that fits with early May (at least as Vermonters experience it) is “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” which evokes the time when the first leaves appear:
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.
As usual, Frost combines close observation of nature with original musings of his own. He notices the color of the leaves just as they are emerging: they’re gold, not green, more like flowers than leaves. But that golden beginning soon brings on what Frost sees as a process of decline, not growth: leaf subsides to leaf. It reminds him of the Fall of Man (“So Eden sank to grief”). The day itself “goes down,” not at sunset but when dawn has passed. Golden dawns and golden springs (like Golden Ages) don’t last.
The sentiment isn’t original with Frost. Shakespeare expressed it in a sonnet:
When I consider everything that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment…
In eight short lines, Frost captures a moment of beauty in early May even as he laments how brief that moment is. “Nothing Gold Can Stay” is a poem well suited for this pandemic-shadowed month of 2020.
Come commune with Robert Frost in Bennington when you can! We’ll keep you posted on when the Museum show and the Stone House Museum will be opening. In the meantime, the Frost gravesite in Old Bennington is open to the public seven days a week.
– Phil Holland, a resident of Pownal, is the author of Robert Frost in Bennington County.