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.
– Robert Frost
Driving to work this morning, as the sun was just beginning to stretch its arms, and yawn, I was struck by the tender green leaves sprouting everywhere. Just like Frost’s poem, they were more gold than green in the dawn light. Like most people of my generation, whenever I hear that poem I think of the book, The Outsiders. Can there be anything more romantic than teenage coming of age stories? Nothing quite captures the heroic/tragic, self pity of youth the way that book did. Say what you want about it, but S.E. Hinton really nailed that feeling when she wrote it. It was required reading for NDHS, and probably just about every other high school in the 80’s. Heck, they even made a movie out of it filled with brooding, good looking young actors just in case your High School English teacher was lazy, and preferred showing movies in class so he could sleep off his hangover in the back of the room.
Of course, S.E. Hinton didn’t invent heroic/tragic teenage self pity. It’s been around at least as long as Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. I mean really, what sulky, teenage wallflower didn’t imagine himself as Mercutio, taking that sword thrust through the heart? Didn’t we take a metaphorical sword through the heart on a daily, if not hourly basis?
College was no better. I sulked, and pouted my way through the entire canon of English and American Literature, and came away believing that life was all about lost Eden. Now whenever April rolls around I can’t help but think of old T.S. (Terribly Sexy) Elliot, and The Waste Land.
April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain…
What is the Waste Land, but a more snooty, high fallutin version of Frost’s poem? No, all Elliott is telling us is “Kid, you think you got it bad now, just wait until you’re older. Then life really kicks you in the nuts.”
Well kids, don’t believe it. I know that this might not sound real convincing, but life is a long series of crucifixions, and resurrections. Pity the character, like Mercutio, who dies in the first act. They miss out on all the fun, because like spring, life is an endless cycle of pain and suffering, followed by joy and ecstasy. Rinse and repeat.
The beauty of it is that each new spin on its Merry Go Round reveals new truths. Growing up may mean growing old, but it’s still growth. Better to keep breeding those Lilacs out of the dead land, than become their fertilizer.
Stay Gold Ponyboy.