Literature Reviews

Final Advice on Rewriting

» Whenever possible, get feedback from a trusted reader- In every project,*
there comes a time when the writer has gotten so close to the work that he or
she can’t see it clearly. A talented roommate or a tutor in the campus writing
center can tell you what isn’t yet clear on the page, what questions still need
answering, or what line of argument isn’t yet as persuasive as it could be.
® Be willing to refine your thesis* Once you have fleshed out your whole paper,
you may find that your original thesis is not borne out by the rest of your argument.
If so, you will need to rewrite your thesis so that it more precisely fits the
evidence at hand.
® Be prepared to question your whole approach to a work of literature.
On occasion, you may even need to entertain the notion of throwing everything
you have written into the wastebasket and starting over again. Occasionally
having to start from scratch is the lot of any writer.
• Rework troublesome passages- Look for skimpy paragraphs of one or two
sentences—evidence that your ideas might need more fleshing out. Can you
supply more evidence, more explanation, more examples or illustrations?
m Cut out any unnecessary information- Everything in your paper should
serve to further its thesis. Delete any sentences or paragraphs that detract from
your focus.
® Aim for intelligent clarity when you use literary terminology- Critical
terms can help sharpen your thoughts and make them easier to handle. Nothing
is less sophisticated or more opaque, however, than too many technical terms
thrown together for grandiose effect: “The mythic symbolism of this archetype is
the antithesis of the dramatic situation.” Choose plain words you’re already at ease
with. When you use specialized terms, do so to smooth the way for your reader—
to make your meaning more precise. It is less cumbersome, for example, to refer
to the tone of a story than to say, “the way the author makes you feel that she
feels about what she is talking about.”
& Set your paper aside for a while- Even an hour or two away from your essay
can help you return to it with fresh eyes. Remember that the literal meaning of
“revision” is “seeing again.”
« Finally, carefully read your paper one last time to edit it. Now it’s time to
sweat the small stuff. Check any uncertain spellings, scan for run-on sentences
and fragments, pull out a weak word and send in a stronger one. Like soup stains
on a job interviewee’s tie, finicky errors distract from the overall impression and
prejudice your reader against your essay.
Here is the revised version of the student paper we have been examining.
Noah Gabriel
Professor James
English 2171
7 October 2006
Lost Innocence in
Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay”
Most of the lines in Robert Frost’s brief poem
“Nothing Gold Can Stay” focus on nature: the changing of
the seasons and the fading of dawn into day. The poem’s
opening line asserts that the first blossoms of spring
are more precious than the leaves that follow. Likewise,
dawn is more special than day. Though Frost’s subject
seems to be nature, the reader soon realizes that his
real subject is human nature. As babies we are all
perfectly innocent, but as time passes, we can’t help
but lose that happy innocence. In “Nothing Gold Can
Stay,” Frost makes a bold claim: sin, suffering, and
loss are inevitable because the passage of time causes
everyone to fall from grace.
The poem begins with a deceptively simple sentence:
“Nature’s first green is gold.” The subject seems to be
the first, delicate leaves of spring which are less
green and more golden than summer leaves. However, the
poem goes on to say, “Her early leaf’s a flower” (3),
indicating that Frost is describing the first blossoms
of spring. In fact, he’s describing both the new leaves
and blossoms. Both are as rare and precious as the
mineral gold. They are precious because they don’t last
long; the early gold of spring blossoms is nature’s
“hardest hue to hold” (2). Early spring is an example of
nature in its perfect state, and perfection is
impossible to hold on to. To the poem’s speaker, in
fact, the colors of early spring seem to last only an
hour. When poets write of seasons, they often also are
commenting on the life cycle. To make a statement that
spring can’t last more than an hour implies that a
person’s youth (often symbolically associated with
spring) is all too short. Therefore, the poem implies
that innocent youth, like spring, lasts for only the
briefest time.
While Frost takes four lines to describe the
decline of the spring blossoms, he picks up the pace
when he describes what happens next. The line, “Then
leaf subsides to leaf” (5) brings us from early spring
through summer and fall, compressing three seasons into
a single line. Just as time seems to pass slowly when we
are children, and then much more quickly when we grow
up, the poem moves quickly once the first golden moment
is past. The word “subsides” feels important. The golden
blossoms and delicate leaves of spring subside, or sink
to a lower level, meaning they become less special and
beautiful.
Though Frost is writing about nature, his real
subject is humanity. As mentioned above, in literature,
f
spring often represents youth. Similarly, summer
symbolizes young adulthood, autumn stands for middle
age, and winter represents old age. The adult stages of
life are, for Frost, less precious than childhood,
which passes very quickly, as we later realize. Also,
the innocence of childhood is, like those spring
leaves, precious as gold.
Frost shifts his view from the cycle of the seasons
to the cycle of a single day to make a similar point.
Just as spring turns to summer, “So dawn goes down to
day” (7). Like spring, dawn is unbelievably colorful and
beautiful but doesn’t last very long. Like “subsides,”
the phrase “goes down” implies that full daylight is
actually a falling off from dawn. As beautiful as
daylight is, it’s ordinary, while dawn is special
because it is more fleeting.
Among these natural images, one line stands out:
“So Eden sank to grief” (6). This line is the only one
in the poem that deals directly with human beings. Eden
may have been a garden (a part of nature) but it
represents a state of mind–perfect innocence. In the
traditional religious view, Adam and Eve chose to
disobey God by eating an apple from the tree of
knowledge. They were presented with a choice: to be
obedient and remain in paradise forever, or to disobey
God’s order. People often speak of that first choice as
“original sin.” In this religious view, “Eden sank to
grief” because the first humans chose to sin.
Frost, however, takes a different view. He compares
the Fall of Man to the changing of spring to summer, as
though it was as inevitable as the passage of time. The
poem implies that no matter what Adam and Eve did, they
couldn’t remain in paradise. Original sin in Frost’s
view seems less a voluntary moral action than a natural,
if unhappy sort of maturation. The innocent perfection
of the garden of Eden couldn’t possibly last. The apple
represents knowledge, so in a symbolic sense God wanted
Adam and Eve to stay unknowing, or innocent. But the
poem implies that it was inevitable that Adam and Eve
would gain knowledge and lose their innocence, becoming
wiser but less perfect. They lost Eden and encountered
“grief,” the knowledge of suffering and loss associated
with the human condition. This is certainly true for the
rest of us human beings. As much as we might like to, we
can’t stay young or innocent forever.
Some people might view Frost’s poem as sacrilegious,
because it seems to say that Adam and Eve had no choice;
everything in life is doomed to fall. Growing less
innocent and more knowing seems less a choice in Frost’s
view than a natural process like the changing of golden
blossoms to green leaves. “Eden sank to grief” not
because we choose to do evil things but because time
takes away our innocence as we encounter the suffering
and loss of human existence. Frost suggests that the
real original sin is that time has to pass and we all
must grow wiser and less innocent.

7 thoughts on “Final Advice on Rewriting

  1. Must check out Sweenys! Love red…that reg thing? How can they mix tgat 50shades tripe with real literature 🙂

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