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Kathleen Pineda
English 102
Professor Wall
08 May 2014
Analyzing and Appreciating Nothing Gold Can Stay and The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

Poetry syncopates thoughts, emotions, stories, ideas, and themes into a bounded number
of lines. Elaborate concepts that can be written about in an entire book are compressed into a
short number of ambiguous phrases, each which can possess many meanings. Nothing Gold Can
Stay by Robert Frost and The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner by Randall Jarrell are
indisputable examples of this. Both poems compress intricate ideas and themes into few
expansive lines. In only eight lines, Nothing Gold Can Stay, describes lifes transient beauty.
In only five lines, The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner depicts big issues such as, lifes
fragility, the inescapability of death, the power and the role of state in our lives, and the horrors
of war (Shmoop Editorial Team). One can appreciate the elegance and simplicity presented to
sum up such complex concepts in these poems.
Nothing Gold Can Stay by Robert Frost begins by describing the colors of spring,
suggesting that nature starts out as gold and then turns green. According to Frost, the leaves start
out as flower buds, but their gold color doesnt last long. Eventually, they turn green and become
leaves. In keeping with Frosts poem, this natural transformation is connected to the fall of the

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garden of Eden, as well as the change from dawn to day (Shmoop Editorial Team). The poem
then comes to full circle when Frost reminds us that the allure of gold is only ephemeral.
According to literary critic, John Robert Doyle Jr., the impact of the poem, Nothing
Gold Can Stay, comes from the inversion of the expected order which subsides imposes on
the reader (Doyle). In order to understand this short poem, Doyle believes the reader must reexamine the circumstances of the poem and consider why subsides has been used instead of
expands, or grows, or enlarges, or advances (Doyle). In accordance with Doyle, these words
apply to the normal growing process, the increasing size, moving towards maturity (Doyle).
Subsides, however, pertains to another facet of the situation, the one being prepared for in the
first four lines (Doyle). Doyle remarks that subsides refers to the progressive loss of the leafs
delicateness and youthful qualities as it grows; it is the youthful characteristics that are the
hardest to hold (Doyle). He uses the lines So Eden sank to grief and So dawn goes down to
day as archetypes of the recurring theme of loss of golden youthfulness and innocence
(Doyle). Doyle believes Nothing Gold Can Stay represents an important part of Frosts
thinking (Doyle). According to Doyle, English literature tends to lament the fleeting moment,
the shortness of youth, of love, of life (Doyle). Frost, however, has a different approach. Frost
believes that it is possible to be aware of the passing moment without lamenting it (Doyle).
According to Doyle, because Frost believes this, his poem ends where it began, in a repetition
of the initial claim; and the center of the poem presents samples of that which did not stay
(Doyle). Doyle equates Frosts poem, Nothing Gold Can Stay with another poem of his called,
Acceptance (Doyle). Doyle claims that the mental outlook of acceptance in Frosts poems is
one reason for the lyric strength of his poems: his attitude allows him to love many aspects of

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external nature and of human nature because he is not taken up with lamenting what he cannot
change (Doyle). In consonance with Robert Doyle Jr., Frost admires and appreciates the gold
things in life, in spite of the ultimate fact that they are short-lived.
Laurence Perrine takes a more literal approach than Doyle to Robert Frosts poem,
Nothing Gold Can Stay. He observes that the poem develops out of a series of preceding
observations and reflections; the thought structure is inductive (Perrine). Perrine recognizes that
line one (Natures first green is gold) and line three (Her early leafs a flower) are both
associated with early spring. These two lines are followed by the same summary line (Then leaf
subsides to leaf). According to Perrine, line three may therefore easily be read as simply a
metaphor of line one (Perrine). In line with Perrine, the paradox in line one is explainable by
the fact that, when leaves first bud in the spring, they often have a golden tint, more gold than
green, which they lose as they grow larger (Perrine). According to Perrine, the ambiguity in line
three tells us that this gold tint makes the leaves more flower like (yellow or gold being the
commonest wildflower color) (Perrine). Perrine provides a very literal meaning to the poem.
According to Perrine, line three invokes a particular phase of the leafing process. Perrine
mentions how when the leaf buds begin to open, they frequently have a curling flower-like
shape before they flatten out (Perrine). With this understanding of the reading, Perrine notes that
lines one and three both refer to the budding and opening of leaves, but line one refers to color
and line three to shape (Perrine). Perrine also considers a more profound reading of line three,
(Her early leafs a flower). Perrine acknowledges that the plum, (a fruit Frost mentions in his
work, The Strong Are Saying Nothing), blossoms before it bears leaves. According to Perrine,
in botanical language the term leaf, in its broadest sense, includes all foliar structures of

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the higher plants, including the sepals, petals, pistil, and stamens of the flower: all parts of the
blossom, technically, are modified leaves (Perrine). Therefore, for trees such as the plum, it is
literally true that the early leafs a flower (Perrine). Line four, (But only so an hour), may
refer to the brief blossoming period of these trees (Perrine). In agreement with Perrine, it is not
necessary to choose among the different interpretations; the mind can entertain them all
(Perrine).
One can infer from Randall Jarrells title, The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner that this
poem deals with the most brutal fate of war. To give his readers background, Jarrell wrote a note
explaining what a ball turret was:
"A ball turret was a Plexiglas sphere set into the belly of a B-17 or B-24, and inhabited by two .
50 caliber machine-guns and one man, a short small man. When this gunner tracked with his
machine guns a fighter attacking his bomber from below, he revolved with the turret; hunched
upside-down in his little sphere, he looked like the fetus in the womb. The fighters which attacked
him were armed with cannon firing explosive shells. The hose was a steam hose."
Stripping away Jarrells metaphoric language, the scene the speaker is describing in the first
couple of lines is of a gunner in his ball turret underneath the bomber (Shmoop Editorial
Team). The speaker describes how cold it was at high altitude; it was so cold that the sweatsoaked, fleece lining of his jacket has frozen (Shmoop Editorial Team). The gunner becomes
cognizant of how far he is from the ground and realizes he left his life there; his new reality was
attacking his enemies (Shmoop Editorial Team). In the last line, it is discovered that the speaker
is actually dead.

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Literary critic Patrick F. Bassett analyzes the imagery of The Death of the Ball Turret
Gunner by Randall Jarrell. He dissects the thematic links between sleep, animality, and
death in the poem. According to Bassett, Jarrell molded his sleep image so that it would be
interpreted in two ways: First, sleep is a state of desensitized consciousness; secondly, sleep is
the agent of a nightmare consciousness (Bassett). In agreement with Bassett, Jarrell insinuates
that only a mother, who is asleep, incognizant and defenseless, could allow the State to take
her child to war (Bassett). Bassett notes that equivalently, only a sleepy, fatigue-wearied turret
gunner could battle enemy fighter planes and not yet awaken until hearing the sounds of the
antaircraft guns, black flak (Bassett). In accordance with Bassett, this irony of sleep surfaces
when the reader realizes that life for the soldier is but ephemeral fantasy, a dream, whereas
reality surfaces in the form of nightmare fighters (Bassett). Thus, with sleeps usual
connotations of release and rejuvenation, it also symbolizes both defenselessness (of mother
and soldier) and nightmare horror (Bassett). Bassett recognizes that one of the horrors of war is
its proclivity to make animals of men (Bassett). Through the theme of dehumanization, Jarrell
stimulates imagery of an animal when the soldier finds that his wet fur froze from his Air
Force issued jacket (Bassett). A soldier is described to be fetally positioned in a sac-like turret
under its (aircrafts) belly (Bassett). According to Bassett, this presents birth imagery. In
agreement with Bassett, the antecedent to the pronoun its is either the State or the mother
(Bassett). This has a dualistic meaning; the soldier is wet, visually attached to his mother,
the plane, via umbilical cord-like machine guns and hose (Bassett). When the soldier is
washed out, Bassett claims this imagery is symbolic to being cleansed as a newborn upon
emergence from the womb (Bassett). The fall from the soldiers mother into the State represents
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a miscarriage and the overwhelming separation from the womb (Bassett). This exemplifies his
unpreparedness for the state of war (Bassett).
Patrick J. Horner augments to Bassetts interpretation of the theme of birth in The Death
of the Ball Turret Gunner. While Bassett compares the soldiers death to a miscarriage, Horner
compares his death to an abortion. According to Horner, the washing out of his remains by
introducing a fluid under pressure clearly suggests one of the common procedures for ejecting a
fetus after abortion (Horner). This implicates that the gunner, like an aborted fetus, was never
allowed to achieve independent human life (Horner). Horner also observes the lapse of time
between the last two lines which produce two important effects (Horner). First, Horner notes that
between the gunners physical birth and his awakening in the planes belly a number of years
pass (the exact figure would depend on the age of eligibility for the draft) (Horner). Horner
claims that during this period the gunner simply exists as a part of the States dream of life
(Horner). Secondly, Horner asserts that the compression of time neglects the moment of the
gunners death (Horner). Horner explains the significance of the compression of time like this:
Just as the moment of physical birth became merely an anticlimactic transferral of the fetus
from the mothers womb to the States, so the finality of death is reduced to one more stage in
the cycle of filling, emptying, and refilling the turret (Horner). According to Horner, this
manipulation of time shows the stunning brevity of the gunners waking life and the States total
disregard for that phenomenon (Horner). In agreement with Horner, because of the telescoping
of time and the imagery of birth, the gunners understated account of his life and death resonates
with powerful feeling (Horner).
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As observed in the poems Nothing Gold Can Stay and The Death of the Ball Turret
Gunner, metaphors and symbols add more description and effect to a poem. Depending on the
context of a work, a simple word or phrase can have multiple meanings all at once. This allows
writers to express much more content (especially feelings and emotions) than they could
otherwise, and offers many ways for people to look at things. Symbols are also used to convey
messages from the writer; the use of symbols signifies ideas and qualities by giving them
figurative meanings that are different from their literal sense. By integrating metaphors and
symbols with multiple meanings, writers are able to deepen and compress the messages they
want to convey.
Other than metaphors and symbols, there are many other devices that help writers craft
their work. For example, alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds, especially at the
beginning of words (Glossary). This is demonstrated in lines one (Natures first green is
gold), two (Her hardest hue to hold), and seven (So dawn goes down to day) of the poem,
Nothing Gold Can Stay. Understatement, a figure of speech in which a writer or speaker says
less than what he or she means; the opposite of exaggeration, is demonstrated in the last line in
the poem, The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner (When I died they washed me out of the turret
with a hose) (Glossary). Imagery, the pattern of related comparative aspects of language,
particularly of images, in a literary work, is another device used to express, deepen, and convey
a message (Glossary). As explained, imagery is present in both Nothing Gold Can Stay and
The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner.
It amazes me how writers can compress such complex ideas, thoughts, and emotions into
only a few lines. By encountering the literary criticism written about Nothing Gold Can Stay
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and The Death of a Ball Turret Gunner, Ive learned that there truly are so many different ways
to interpret these poems, ways that probably the poets themselves didnt even think of. Poetry is
an art form. By reading different interpretations of these poems, Ive come to believe that the
more ways one can interpret a poem, the more talented that poet is. I believe writers approach
life with curiosity and wonder more than other people. Being able to manipulate language so that
it makes sense in many different ways on various levels, and so that many different people can
relate takes creativity, awareness, insight, and empathy.

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Citations
Bassett, Patrick F. "Jarrell's 'The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner'." Explicator 36.3 (1978): 2021. Rpt. in Poetry Criticism. Ed. David M. Galens. Vol. 41. Detroit: Gale, 2003.
Literature Resource Center. Web. 8 May 2014.
Doyle, John Robert, Jr. "Thought in Lyric Form." The Poetry of Robert Frost: An Analysis.
Hafner Press, 1962. 159-176. Rpt. in Poetry for Students. Ed. Marie Rose Napierkowski
and Mary Ruby. Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale, 1998. Literature Resource Center. Web. 8 May
2014.
"Glossary of Poetic Terms." Literature | . N.p., n.d. Web. 8 May 2014. <http://highered.mcgrawhill.com>
Horner, Patrick J. "Jarrell's THE DEATH OF THE BALL TURRET GUNNER." Explicator 36.4
(1978): 9. Academic Search Premier. Web. 8 May 2014.
Perrine, Laurence. "Frost's NOTHING GOLD CAN STAY." Explicator 42.1 (1983): 38. Literary
Reference Center. Web. 8 May 2014.
Shmoop Editorial Team. "Nothing Gold Can Stay Summary." Shmoop.com. Shmoop University,
Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 8 May 2014. y 2014.
Shmoop Editorial Team. "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner Themes." Shmoop.com. Shmoop
University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 8 May 2014. y 2014.

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