A Comparison of “Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost and “Storm Warnings” by Adrienne Rich
In “Storm Warnings” and “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” nature is an overarching theme. In both works, the poets write of nature as a powerful force that mankind cannot control; each writer uses different aspects of nature to bring out their theme in unique and poignant ways. Nature is portrayed as ephemeral, fleeting and unpredictable, yet also showing strains of predictability in its repeated cycles and seasons; the reader can infer the implications of nature bearing similarities to mankind as a whole as well as to the individual. Both Robert Frost and Adrienne Rich seem to respect the power and magnificence of nature at the same time that they recognize in its deeper elements certain parallels with humanity. True to the general personality of poetry, “Storm Warnings” and “Nothing Gold Can Stay” can be taken at face value or delved into more deeply to unearth symbolic truths of a figurative nature.
“Storm Warnings” by Adrienne Rich weaves together a message that nature cannot be controlled by writing of two related concepts – the weather of the heart and weather in nature at large. Neither form of weather is completely predictable, nor are they controllable. Weather in nature, the poem points out, has been charted and can be predicted by the dropping of the “glass” – the barometer – but it still cannot be controlled: “Between foreseeing and averting change / Lies all the mastery of elements” (ll. 15-16). Breaking the barometer cannot destroy the oncoming storm, just as destroying a clock cannot stop time, as Rich points out in the following lines: “Time in the hand is not control of time / Nor shattered fragments of an instrument / A proof against the wind; the wind will rise” (ll. 18-20). The poem seems to speak of the inability to have power over elements of nature, no matter how much humanity might make such attempts.
The narrator of the poem appears well aware of the weather that can sweep the land, and is wise to the knowledge that her only defense against the onslaught of nature is closing the doors and remaining protected or barricaded inside with the lines, “We can only close the shutters / … / This is our sole defense against the season” (ll. 21, 26). Even then, increment elements seep through the keyhole, an ominous portrayal that mankind cannot completely control any part of nature – neither weather nor time. Adrienne Rich writes of man’s learning to cope with the weather as a way to almost “settle” with mankind’s inability to control the elements of nature.
“Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost also speaks of the uncontainable authority of nature, yet brings out a different idea than Adrienne Rich’s poem. Frost’s work speaks of the ephemeral elements of life by using parallels in nature – its “gold” that is the blossom of spring and the perfect dawn of a day: “Nature’s first green is gold, / Her hardest hue to hold. / Her early leaf’s a flower; / But only so an hour” (ll. 1-4). The poem rings of the poignant character of all things earthly, which seem to fade almost before their time. The implication is not only those transient elements in nature, but also within the fleeting lives of humanity, which come and go so quickly.
The poem by Frost also brings in religious undertones when referring to the Garden of Eden and its perfection at the dawn of humanity; yet its’ eventual sinking to grief, bespeaking the fate of nature itself, with the lines, “Then leaf subsides to leaf. / So Eden sank to grief” (ll. 5-6). Nothing man can do would have the power to change this; the unspoken message of Frost’s poem seems to be that it would be useless to try to wrest nature to serve one’s own purposes, for “nothing gold can stay” (ll. 8). The poem seems almost sad in its portrayal that nothing gold within nature is lasting or eternal.
Both “Storm Warnings” and “Nothing Gold Can Stay” utilize similar themes of the power of nature and its pervasive influence upon humanity in spite of mankind’s manifold abilities and progressing technologies. The idea or message at first glance almost cheerless, yet an underlying significance can be wrought from both poems. This more hopeful undertone whispers of the ability of both nature and man to be recreated in a way that is also uncontrollable and almost beyond understanding. Nothing gold can stay, yet each new day another dawn rises; each new season welcomes the “gold” of blossoms and spring’s unique beauty. In “Storm Warnings,” although people who live in such “troubled regions” (ll. 28) batten down the hatches and hole up in protection against oncoming storms – of nature or of the heart – the unspoken truth is that the storm will pass. The sun will be seen once again … or hope will rise once more.
Although both poems convey the power of nature to destroy or be destroyed, to fail and fade with the passing of time, both can also be taken with the hope that nature always cycles around to rebirth and renewal. However, when the storms loom low and fierce, and when dawn gives way to a day that scorches the sky, it is difficult for anyone – poet and pessimist alike – to see beyond the harsh and inclement parts of nature. At such times, as Rich writes, one can only “Draw the curtains as the sky goes black / And set a match to candles sheathed in glass” (ll. 22-23). Her words give credence to the idea that – whether someone is facing the storms of nature or of the heart – there is always something to do to welcome a little bit of light, a fleeting glimpse of gold, into one’s life as protection against complete despair.
In the English class I’m taking, after reading and discussing “The Crucible” for our essays, we watched the movie. I remember when the movie came out. I didn’t watch it then.
When I watched it in class, of course I knew what to expect as the story line and dialogue was almost identical to the play by Arthur Miller.
But the end was a little different, and I’d have to say I enjoyed the ending of the movie more than the book. It showed how the perspectives of the townspeople had changed, if only slightly. And it showed three characters who remained fearless to the end.
And that’s when I wrote this short poem (yes, in the middle of class):
What happens when you know
Not to death
Then death is not
But hope waits
At the end
This is why
When you know
Not to death
There is no fear
And open eyes
In “The Crucible,” Arthur Miller portrays two women whose characters, when juxtaposed, seem to vastly contrast each other. Although the exact words are not used, one woman is basically put forth in the story as “good” and the other woman as “evil.” Such black and white rulings of these characters would be almost ironic, considering that Arthur Miller wrote his play to expose the hazards of judging people with different mindsets or belief systems. Miller portrayed that such illogical reasoning is dangerous or at the very least, counterproductive. Exploring the characters and motives of the two main women, Abigail Williams and Elizabeth Proctor, a rough microcosm comes into view, paralleling the message of the story as a whole. The reader begins to recognize that more is at play than a surface rendering of “good” versus “evil.”
Abigail Williams, the “bad” girl, is introduced in the play as the ringleader who led other girls to a taboo gathering; her primary purpose was so to cast a spell upon Elizabeth Proctor, the wife of John Proctor – with whom she had an affair when she lived with them as a servant. Clearly, what to John was a small detour off the path of righteousness was to Abigail the doorway to a new world. Abigail is confused, and her reasoning illogical, but that is no different from the logically impaired perspective of many in the town of Salem, even the most powerful and well educated. Abigail’s reasoning that if Elizabeth died, she would obtain John fit well among the illogical perspectives of many characters in the play. Her motives were, in a morally secure world, wrong; yet they were so well-hidden that few saw through her guise of persecuted innocence.
If Abigail’s reasoning was illogical and her motives impure, her methods definitely tipped the scale against her character. She was willing to let numerous innocent people be accused and die, and in many cases was the one sitting in the seat of the accuser. Having the story written as a novel would have been helpful at this point, because the only glimpse into Abigail’s point of view is the discussion she had with John Proctor, which was for a time cut from the story by Arthur Miller. In that conversation, the young woman seemed completely convinced of the righteousness of her cause as well as enraptured by her fantasy that she would have John once his wife died: “God gave me strength to call them liars … Oh, John, I will make you such a wife when the world is white again” (150). Perhaps Abigail was truly deluded, or perhaps very good at playing the part, even to John Proctor. It is almost that, by that point in time, she had gone so far that, whether she believed in her lie or was deliberately faking it the whole time, she knew it would be suicide to stop there.
At the end of the story, the “evil” woman escaped, faultless in the eyes of many, into the night, having stolen her uncle’s money to take her far from the volatile situation. Here again the reasoning of the men in power can be brought into question. If the main accuser was gone, having stolen money – which in those days must have been a severe crime, more tangible than sending one’s spirit to hurt another in the night – would it not stand to reason that perhaps her testimony should be brought into question? Yet such an idea never arose and the men who held the lives in the sway of their judgment continued on their oblivious path toward false sentencing and ultimately, murder.
Elizabeth Proctor, by contrast, was the “good” woman. She entered the story fully in the first scene of Act II, a scene almost awkward to read. The unnatural discourse between husband and wife seems an egg-skin cover stretched thinly over a wound. When John Proctor blew up toward the end of their dialogue, his words acted as a rift in that strained cover, yet Elizabeth simply turned the power of judgment over to him, stating, “I do not judge you. The magistrate sits in your heart that judges you. I never thought you but a good man” (55). This heated exchange brings to light the issues that brimmed beneath the surface in their marriage, which don’t come out completely until the very end of the play.
The clearest view into Elizabeth’s mind and heart arises from a conversation that took place in the last meeting between her and John before he died: “I have read my heart this three month, John. I have sins of my own to count. It needs a cold wife to prompt lechery. … I counted myself so plain, so poorly made, no honest love could come to me! Suspicion kissed you when I did; I never knew how I should say my love. It were a cold house I kept” (137). Here, Elizabeth’s heart was exposed in a way that no other character’s was, and the deeper reason is shown as to why they had a strained marriage. Elizabeth always thought herself inferior, unlovable. One can only imagine the world of her younger years, possibly one child of many, forgotten and overlooked, very likely judged harshly for minor infractions. One pictures little joy in such a community and a one-sided approach to Christianity, which was more a form of Old Testament legalism without the promise of love and forgiveness. Never once in the story were concepts such as abiding joy, life abundant, or forgiving love mentioned. It was all judgment and harsh rulings, the very element that Jesus called into question when he exposed the motives of the religious class of his time, the Pharisees.
Elizabeth’s character represented, in a way, all those who grew up under the thumb of distorted belief systems. Her perspective and existence was a product of that upbringing, though she was likely blind to it herself. In this respect, Elizabeth’s character was not much different from Abigail’s. Raised with little love and little true understanding of the world around them, these women’s only survival was in their obedience to rules that in many cases were neither logical nor biblical. Both women were beset by fear: Elizabeth by fear that she was unloved and could never truly be loved for who she was; Abigail, by fear that if she didn’t take matters into her hands, her life would be spent alone and unhappy.
In the end, Elizabeth discovered that she truly was loved. Perhaps it was too little and too late, but her husband loved her. Her husband was willing to give his life, perhaps not exactly or entirely for her, but in a way his act represented that unselfish love. John Proctor’s love for his wife gave him the strength to confess his deeds with Abigail, and although it cast him in a bad light and brought him death, he chose rather to die for the love of his wife than to live without her. One analysis states that, “Elizabeth’s noblest act comes in the end when she helps the tortured John Proctor forgive himself just before his death” (Shmoop).
History reveals that Elizabeth Proctor, although accused, was not condemned. If Arthur Miller was accurate in his portrayal of her character, one can only hope that her life was transformed by the fact that she learned she was loved. Perhaps she felt not so plain and acted not so suspicious, for true love transforms the heart in ways that cannot be explained but only experienced. Abigail, on the other hand, escaped from the situation, running from her fear in the end. One can only assume that it followed her to the end of her days. Her story was not a “happily ever after” as she never faced those things she feared the most.
The “good” woman and the “evil” woman were both products of their upbringing. Still, they had the power to choose whether this would determine their decisions or whether they would rise above and take the more difficult path of truth, acceptance – even of one’s own deepest fears – and of love. One is not surprised – considering the actions of these two women throughout the story – by the decisions they made in the end. There was no character arc for Abigail, but there was for Elizabeth, who came to understand love and forgiveness in a way she never had. Presumably, hopefully, it set her free to truly live.
Miller, Arthur. The Crucible: Screenplay. New York: Penguin, 1996. Print.
Shmoop Editorial Team. “Elizabeth Proctor in The Crucible.” Shmoop.com. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 17 Mar. 2014.
An analysis of “We Have No ‘Right to Happiness’” by C. S. Lewis
In an essay titled “We Have No ‘Right to Happiness’,” C. S. Lewis writes of an incident that most likely brought a fair bit of attention at the time (approx. 50 years ago). A husband divorced his wife for another woman, who in turn left her husband to marry this man. The first wife, as a result, committed suicide.
The belief of the man who left his wife and of a woman named Clare – with whom Lewis discussed the issue – firmly rested in the opinion that the man had a “right to happiness” no matter what the cost. C. S. Lewis pointed out that a “right” is something we are legally allowed to do, however the stance of those who argued the right to happiness spoke of more than just a legal right. They referred to the “right to happiness” as more of a moral right.
Although we do have a legal right to pursue happiness – as long as our methods lie within a legal framework – do we have a “right” to happiness when our pursuit lies outside of a moral framework? In the fifty years since Lewis’ essay was written, we are answering that question through the lives we live and the happiness we pursue.
I would venture to say that society at large, and the individuals within it, are finding this hot pursuit to be not much more than ashes between their teeth. Perhaps we need to rethink what happiness is, from where it comes, and how to truly attain it.
Two years ago, a situation similar to the one C.S. Lewis wrote of made the news in a nearby city. In February of 2012, a 41-year-old Modesto teacher left his wife and children to pursue a relationship with an 18-year-old student who attended the high school where he taught. This teacher was interviewed by the Modesto Bee, and he stated, “In making our choice, we’ve hurt a lot of people. We keep asking ourselves, ‘Do we make everyone else happy or do we follow our hearts?’” (Modesto, par. 5)
His question sounds almost noble, as if everyone else is on one side, and just the two lovers stand alone for the cause of following one’s heart and pursuing happiness.
C. S. Lewis writes in his book The Four Loves, “When lovers say of some act that we might blame, ‘Love made us do it,’ notice … how devoutly they say the word love, not so much pleading an extenuating circumstance as appealing to an authority. … It seems to sanction all sorts of actions they would not otherwise have dared. The pair can say to one another in an almost sacrificial spirit, ‘It is for love’s sake that I have neglected my parents—left my children—cheated my partner—failed my friend at his greatest need’” (Four 156).
In the above quote from The Four Loves, as well as in the following quote from “We Have No ‘Right to Happiness,’” Lewis brings attention to the special “rights” that we tend to give to anything done in the name of love: “Our sexual impulses are thus being put in a position of preposterous privilege. The sexual motive is taken to condone all sorts of behavior which, if it had any other end in view, would be condemned as merciless, treacherous and unjust” (Collected 518).
Today, especially in the western world, the alpha and omega of happiness often centers on whether or not we have found “love” – which more specifically seems to be synonymous with sexual satisfaction and compatibility. Is finding “love” – or at least emotional and sexual satisfaction – the only road to happiness? Where did that idea even originate? Historically, what did happiness mean and how was humanity to pursue it?
The Greek word eudaimon translates into the word “happy.” In its exact translation, eudaimon means “good spirit.” The understanding in Greek tradition was that for someone to be happy, their lives would need to be blessed by the gods. According to author Darrin M. McMahon, the notion of happiness “contains within it a notion of fortune—for to have a good daimon on your side, a guiding spirit, is to be lucky—and a notion of divinity, for a daimon is an emissary of the gods who watches over each of us” (Happiness 3-4). Later the author points out that in conventional Greek thinking, “Happiness is almost always a miracle, requiring the direct intervention of the divine” (Happiness 9).
We learn from McMahon’s research in his book that happiness is traditionally synonymous with words such as “luck, fortune, or fate” (Happiness 10). The idea is that we, as mere humans, have no place in determining whether or not we will be happy. It’s all a matter of chance. In “We Have No ‘Right to Happiness’” Lewis seems to merge these two concepts when he states, “I believe … that we depend for a very great deal of our happiness or misery on circumstance outside all human control” (Collected 519).
So then what is happiness?
Is it something we have the right to pursue by any (legal) means available?
In reply, I pose yet another question. What is the guarantee that the item sought will bring lasting happiness? Let us consider the subject of marriage, as it is the central subject of Lewis’ essay, as well as of the Modesto man who left his wife and children to pursue happiness with a teenager. How likely are these individuals to find greater happiness with their second marriages? In a website focused on divorce information, we find an interesting fact about this. Divorcerate.org tells us that the chance of divorce increases with each subsequent marriage. The divorce rate in America for someone’s first marriage is 50%. With a second marriage, it goes up to 67%. If someone marries a third time, there is a 74% percent chance that the marriage will end in divorce (Divorcerate.org, par. 9).
Second- and third-time divorcees do not appear to be increasing their chances at happiness. Quite the opposite, it seems that the more someone attempts to find a quick fix through divorce, the less likely that individual is to find happiness on their second or third try. But don’t they have the right to try again? Isn’t it one of our most inalienable rights to pursue happiness, whatever that might mean for the individual?
Is happiness a blessing from the gods, something over which we have no power? Or is it something we should seek after by any and all means, because we are the only ones who have the power to bring true happiness to ourselves?
Or is happiness something else altogether?
Mother Teresa, a woman who personified joyful service to the world for many years said this about finding joy: “Joy is a sign of union with God, of God’s presence” (Joy 267). She lived out her union with God by spending years caring for the poorest of the poor in the slums of India and training others to do likewise.
The idea of finding joy through service to God and others originated with the words of Jesus, which were at odds with the ideals of the world in His day: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven” (Bible). The Greek word for “blessed” – makarios – is “extremely fortunate, well off, and truly happy” (Beatitudes, par. 3).
Not much has changed in two thousand years; we still seek after happiness and joy through fleeting experiences, only to find it eludes our grasp in any lasting manner. C. S. Lewis ended his essay saying, “Though the ‘right to happiness’ is chiefly claimed for the sexual impulse, it seems to me impossible that the matter should stay there. The fatal principle, once allowed in that department, must sooner or later seep through our whole lives. We thus advance toward a state of society in which not only each man but every impulse in each man claims carte blanche. And then, though our technological skill may help us survive a little long, our civilization will have died at heart” (Collected 519).
Many today would suggest that, in order to find happiness, one must seek it in their own way. I agree that the exact road to happiness will vary for each person. But I would caution against seeking after it by following the usual road that society emphasizes through countless romantic comedies, steamy romance novels, and billboards that urge us, “Buy this and you will be happy. Try this and you will be complete.”
Perhaps we should try something a little bit different.
Giving instead of taking.
Loving instead of hating.
You might not be the next Mother Teresa, but your perception on happiness just might change. Better yet, you may yourself more likely to find happiness through these means than by dashing off in hot pursuit of happiness using any and all means available.
* * * * *
Divorcerate.org. Home page. Divorcerate. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.
Lewis, C.S. The Four Loves. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1960. Print.
—. The Collected Works of C.S. Lewis. New York: Inspirational Press, 1996. Print.
McMahon, Darrin M. Happiness: A History. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2006. Print.
“Modesto teacher resigns, moves in with 18-year-old student.” latimes.com. Los Angeles Times: L.A. Now. 29 Feb. 2012. Web.
Schurman, Virginia. “The Beatitudes: Pathways of Living in True Joy and Peace.” tractassociation.org. Tract Association of Friends. n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.
Teresa, Mother. The Joy in Loving. Ed. Jaya Chalika and Edward Le Joly. New York: Penguin, 1996.
The Bible in New International Version. New International Version. Biblica, 2011. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.