• Nothing Gold Can Stay: Reclaiming the Art of Poetry Memorization



    Ahhh, autumn. The rustling of the leaves. The sipping of apple cider and hot chocolate. The unpacking of fleece blankets and sweaters. This time of the year, people seem to be channeling their inner poets as I see my Facebook wall sprinkled here and there with that glorious poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay" by Robert Frost. And let me just say I'm practically doing cartwheels as I see a few of the cat videos replaced with some straightforward and gorgeous poetry from one of the greats. So, imagine me saying the next thing I am about to say no louder than a soft whisper - kind of a very tiny peep of a spoiler alert - in case you, my lovely reader, have extremely deep connections to "Nothing Gold Can Stay" as a shining specimen of fall poetry at it's most resplendent:

    It's about spring.

    Robert Frost gave his poem one of the greatest bait and switch titles the world has known, outside of every modern news article. I mean, gold. Gold = autumn, period. Case closed. And if you needed further evidence: he says the Gold doesn't stay, so what could shout autumn more, right?

    Nope.

    This blog post, however, is not going to be an academic analysis or line by line breakdown of a poem. It doesn't matter if you think the poem is about fall or about Robert Frost's relationship with his parents. Rather, I'm setting the stage for the back story of what caused me a moment of reflection on this early fall afternoon.

    So as I was noticing the sprinklings of "Nothing Gold Can Stay" in my news feed this afternoon, and knowingly patting each appearance of it on its head, I realized I, myself, didn't really know how the poem went. I mean yes, I've read the poem a thousand times and after reading it three times in a row on my news feed, that made the final count one thousand and three. Yes, I love the poem and I'd sometime previously given it a mental five-star review since it speaks very, very deeply to the way I've experienced the fleeting natural beauties of best time of the year and the metaphor for the fleeting best times of life. But if someone took away my cell phone and I couldn't just Google the poem, it would be lost to me forever. I'd think long and hard trying to recall it and I'd come up with something like: "It said something about leaves giving way and...uh...nothing gold can stay."

    Poetry to me is like the golden thread of existence that weaves humanity of different generations and different walks of life into one common and coherent masterpiece. You don't have to feel that way. There is perhaps something else you feel that does that to humanity. And whatever it is, it's a good thing. For me, it is poetry.

    The lamentable thing, though, is that I have become a victim of our generation's tendency to commit nothing to memory - to throw almost the entirety of my weight on the thought, "Well, I can just Google it any time." The square root of 49? Google it. The capital of Nebraska? Google it. And fine, those factoids might not actually be all that essential in the grand scheme of things. Sorry Nebraska.

    However, if I claim to really love something, like a small and simple poem by Robert Frost, why would I not allow myself to really love it - to study it, to commit it to memory and heart, and to make it permanently mine? Am I really saying I just haven't made the time or expended the energy to fully love the things I love? Whoa, this got real existential, real fast.

    So, the quickest way out of that little existential crisis was to just decide then and there to memorize the poem. It didn't take too long. Maybe longer than it would have taken when I was an early teenager and required to memorize and recite long, long passages of the Lutheran catechism (I attended a Lutheran school). It helps that Robert Frost rhymed in all of his poetry. In fact, I think once he was asked about why he doesn't try his hand at non-rhyming poetry, and he said something like, "Well that would be like playing tennis with the net down." Oh Rob, you cheeky guy, you.

    But, now I can say, 20 minutes later, that I am the proud owner of 8 lines of words put together that make my heart happy to hear and think about them. My mission in writing this blog was to discover and share ways that help me to slow down, savor the moments, and cultivate good vibes. And I think accomplishing these things always comes down to finding those core things that make my heart happy. I hope you find those things too.

    Oh and in case you're wondering, the poem goes like this (typed completely without having to rely on Google. Ok, never mind; I did use Google to double check my accuracy, haha) :D

    Nothing Gold Can Stay

    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.


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