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.
First Aid Kit’s Stay Gold is, in a way, a long meditation on Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” I don’t know if the Söderberg sisters found the poem as a nice way to sum up what they were already writing or if the poem itself opened previously locked doors to them. Either way, as a listener, the album and poem should be taken together, allowed to work on one another in turn.
Let’s get the review mandatories out of the way. Stay Gold is the third album from the Swedish sisters who have spent the last few years learning to make American music their own. Stay Gold is a sonic leap ahead of 2012’s very enjoyable Lion’s Roar. Whereas Lion’s Roar was a solid mystical folk-rock album that rarely transcended the rich vein of tradition it mined, Stay Gold uses that tradition as a point of departure. You hear the slide guitar, the swelling country strings and all of that, but here they always serve at the pleasure of the sisters’ beautiful harmonies and great songwriting. This song cycle works as an album so isolating any one song misses something of the spell it casts, but let me recommend “Cedar Lane” as a taste of the quieter side of the album.
First Aid Kit – “Cedar Lane”
The woozy delivery of the chorus is perfect: “Now I see us walking down Cedar Lane / Slow in the sunshine, fast in the rain.” The memories blur together and the street remains constant. To sample a faster song check out “Master Pretender” on S&N Mix No. 2—Summer At Night.
Now that you understand that the album is excellent, let’s turn to the poem. Frost’s poem is tightly wound and compressed; all the better to feel the rapid expansion of your mind as you begin to absorb the words. We’re warned at the start with a paradox: green is gold. Common sense rebels, but experience suggests patience. We confront fragility and loss throughout the rest of the poem. But the loss is natural, the fate of all that is ephemeral. Color fades, flowers bloom and wilt.
Then the poem moves to the “so.” Observing nature’s way teaches us about ourselves; we are, after all, nature’s creatures too. “So Eden sank to grief, / So dawn goes down to day. / Nothing gold can stay.” The innocence in Eden was humanity’s first green, and the Greek tradition spoke of the Golden Age, a distant past in paradise. I like the pairing of Eden and the dawn. Here nature, the golden dawn, is a daily promise that vanishes with the rising sun.
So we reach the inevitable conclusion — Nothing gold can stay. How beautiful. The ordering of the words is unusual; we’d say, “Nothing can stay gold.” But that can only be read straight. You know what it means. Frost’s phrasing is open — perhaps it is not just the fading color, but also our incapacity to hold onto the things that are gold — nothing gold can stay. The gold disappears, the gold leaves us.
Commentary on the poem reads it as a reflection on our felix culpa — our happy fault or fortunate fall. Adam and Eve’s fall from grace confirms our free will, and so humanity’s greatest trait, its most human one, is found in the loss of our innocence. I have no complaints with this reading, but First Aid Kit broaden the reading and adopt this tragic ethic for all of life. Listen to “Stay Gold.”
First Aid Kit – “Stay Gold”
This is not about Eden, though it is about free will in that it is about living one’s life. The song adds a dimension of desire absent in the poem (though not in the reader) — “Oh I wish, for once, we could stay gold.” Yes, nothing gold can stay, but this doesn’t change that we hope we might dwell in nature’s first green for a time. The song is built around dreams and memories that try to create timeless places where we could stay gold. This rebellious contemplation of Frost’s poem drives the whole album. Each song is another meditation on those things that were once golden but have now lost their hue or the hope to find something — a memory, the present, a future — that might stay gold.
5 thoughts on “The Critic: First Aid Kit’s Stay Gold”
I have to say, Antony, that I think this is the best piece we’ve yet run on this very young website. I am woefully unread on Robert Frost, but I will be changing that soon. And of course, it made me see First Aid Kit’s album in a new light. I think it’s an album filled with pretty melodies, but I haven’t connected with this band as much as the critics seem to. In part, I think it’s because of the oddity of two Swedes so openly trying to emulate Americana music. Something about their last album felt … forced. Less than genuine. And yet as they are becoming better and better pop songwriters, I can’t deny that I love some of their songs now. Knowing the deeper context of the lyrical content is only making me appreciate them even more.
Stay gold, Pony Boy.
@Kelly. Yeah, I read that the poem plays an important part in Hinton’s The Outsiders, but I haven’t seen or read it.
@Spencer. I feel the same way about Frost. That’s twice in the last year I’ve been turned on to him and I think there’s a certain gravity to his poetic voice that I didn’t recognize when I was younger.
Also First Aid Kit does all the backing vocals on Conor Oberst’s new album, Upside Down Mountain. That’s a good record that is growing on me every listen.
How could you ever be a brooding teenager without The Outsiders??? At any rate, Stay Gold, Ponyboy is also a great track by Lawrence, KS emo band The Get Up Kids.
I, too, have been unnecessarily putting off a deeper dive into Frost’s work. After having read Antony’s piece, I came across this book review in the New Republic. The book looks good, but the review provides some really great gems on his better known poems: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/118046/art-robert-frost-tim-kendall-reviewed-adam-plunkett.