This lesson is designed for 8th grade regular English/Reading students, but could be adapted for other grade levels. It could also be incorporated in a unit study about S.E. Hinton's "The Outsiders," which refers to this poem in detail.
Setting the Mood
As students come into the classroom on the day of your unit over Robert Frost's "Nothing Gold Can Stay," have some of the lights dimmed, or half of your lights turned off. If you have a multimedia projector, a slideshow of some images of sunrise, trees, animals, and other plants would be a great mood-setter. If you have an overhead projector, if you could get a color slide of a picture of sunrise, that would be helpful too. In the background, I would suggest some light classical music. As the students come in, ask them to close their eyes and think about the first thing they do in the morning, or what it feels like to wake up. Ask them to make a list of the things they like most about the first part of the day. You could also have them write this as a journal entry before moving into a discussion of "Nothing Gold Can Stay."
Bring On the Poem
Make sure that every student has a copy of the poem for annotation purposes. Because the poem is so short, and the devices are fairly easy to recognize, this is a great poem to use with middle schoolers when starting to teach about annotating literature.
Read through the poem for the students. If you have a DVD or sound recording of "The Outsiders," you can play that part of the reading for the students. Ask them to mark the rhyme scheme, any literary devices they recognize, and any words or phrases that jump out at them.
Analyzing Nothing Gold Can Stay
Here are some teaching ideas to use for this poem:
- The rhyme scheme is AABBCCDD, so this is a simple poem if you are just introducing your students to end rhyme and showing them how to mark rhyme schemes.
Alliteration -- "Nature's first green is gold," "Her hardest hue to hold," and "So dawn goes down to day." Alliteration, like most sound devices, is used to draw the reader's attention to particular words or phrases that express the poem's rhetorical argument. Here, the first example shows that gold is even more prized a color in nature than green; the second emphasizes how fleeting a color gold is in nature -- the gold that comes with the sunrise, that is. The third example echoes that sentiment, showing how quickly sunrise simply becomes sunlight.
- Meter -- This is iambic trimeter, which makes this poem a good choice if you are just starting to teach the students how to scan a poem for meter. Interestingly, the first word, "Nature," inverts the iambic structure, which is commonly used when authors want to bring a particular word to the reader's attention.
- Allusion -- "So Eden sank to grief" -- This refers to the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve brought death into the world by giving in to the temptation of the serpent, in the Old Testament. You may be shocked at how few of your students know what this allusion is talking about. This allusion shows how fleeting the perfect and the ideal are in our world.
- Personification -- referring to Nature as a female. This is a long-standing association with the idea of "Mother Nature" providing sustenance to our world.
Nothing Gold Can Stay Assignment: Student Response
If you are doing this lesson as part of a unit over S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders, try one of the following assignments for your students:
1. Write a paragraph explaining how the theme of this poem (the fleeting nature of the ideal and the perfect) is reflected in the events of the novel.
2. Draw a picture of the church where Pony and Johnny go at sunrise, echoing the images of the poem in your picture.
If you are doing this as part of a poetry unit, or as a stand-alone lesson, here are some sample student assignments:
1. Draw a sunrise picture, echoing the images of the poem in your picture.
2. Write a paragraph explaining how the theme of this poem is either true about life, or untrue, depending on your opinion. Use examples from your own life as examples.
3. Write a poem about sunset. You can adjust requirements about meter and rhyme based on your class's abilities.