The Padshahnama: Opening shamsa, c.1656–7. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014
Travel in the realms of gold with our new challenge in collaboration with The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace. Feast your eyes on some of the stunning pieces from the Gold exhibition and then find your own way to write about this most precious of metals. Winners will be published on Young Poets Network and receive some goodies from the gallery shop.
Gold is thought to have been the first metal discovered by man, around 7,000 years ago and has been found on every continent. It is very unreactive and so occurs in its native state, so is relatively easy to obtain. Indeed in its simplest form it can be panned from rivers and picked up in small flakes or nuggets, without requiring any chemical processes. However, whilst easy to obtain when it’s present, it is very rare – a total of only about 10 tonnes has been found to date in the United Kingdom. Its rarity has added to its appeal.
The distinctive properties of gold – its lustre and its warm yellow colour (which appears to mirror the sun) its rarity and its perceived purity (because it does not tarnish) – have meant that this material has always been associated with the highest status, both earthly and divine.
From the earliest times gold has been associated with religion and with the heavenly. In the Middle Ages gold was used in illuminated manuscripts and altarpiece panels to represent the light of heaven itself. The supposed purity of the metal has made it suitable for sacred vessels used in religious ceremonies, and gold was also used to honour holy relics.
It also symbolises power and status. By tradition crowns, thrones and other symbols of state are made of, or embellished with gold. Gold has come to represent the highest authority in many cultures. Gold jewellery is still something that is used to represent wealth and social status.
Gold is highly malleable and easy to work with, and has therefore been used decoratively on every possible surface from paper to silver, from wood to lacquer and leather to silk. The artefacts in The Queen’s Gallery exhibition show some of the historical ways in which it has been used over thousands of years.
Treasures from the collection
The Rillaton Cup, 1700–1500 BC (Early Bronze Age)
This ancient work of art demonstrates the enduring qualities of gold. An extremely rare survival from this period, the cup is formed from a single sheet of gold, and must have been worked using tools of bone or stone. It was discovered in Rillaton, Cornwall, inside a ceramic vessel which helped preserve its form. It seems to have been decorated with small punched shapes although these are now mostly lost.
Crown found in Ecuador, 1000-1400
This crown is simply made from beaten sheets of gold, yet has striking decorative features. The crown was excavated in the Cuenca region of Ecuador in 1854. It is thought to be the work of the Cañari – the people prevalent in Ecuador before their conquest by the Incas in the mid-fifteenth century.
Tiger’s head, second half of eighteenth century with later additions
Tipu Sultan, the eighteenth century ruler of Mysore, India, took the tiger as his personal symbol. This impressive golden head was part of Tipu’s octagonal throne which was further adorned with smaller tigers’ heads and a jewel encrusted bird of good fortune. The tongue of the tiger is jointed to increase the impression of a roaring beast.
“The way I utilize the pen I turn ink to gold”
Many poets have written about gold – using it symbolically, or describing it in luxurious detail. Gold in poetry can sometimes be double-edged: beautiful, but linked with greed. Take a look at the examples below:
…as marched along
heroes in haste, till the hall they saw,
broad of gable and bright with gold:
that was the fairest, ‘mid folk of earth,
of houses ‘neath heaven, where Hrothgar lived,
and the gleam of it lightened o’er lands afar
from Beowulf, translated by Frances B Grummere
Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to airy thinness beat.
John Donne, ‘A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning’
The barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne,
Burned on the water: the poop was beaten gold
William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra, Act II Scene II
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Robert Frost, ‘Nothing Gold Can Stay’
Gold still has strong cultural connotations as something expensive and desirable; it is still a common shorthand for riches, and status. Rap lyrics, especially those looking at riches and success still use gold as a symbol to represent power. However, like the poets above, some have seen it as a double-edged sword that also represents greed and corruption.
Got that gold, Hammer, gold, 2 Legit, proper money
Talkin ’bout private jet, heliport, chopper money
50 Cent, ‘Money’
The way I utilize the pen I turn ink to gold
Jurassic 5, ‘High Fidelity’
The Empire holds all the gold and the guns
Mos Def, ‘Wahid’
Getcha your Green getcha Gold
It come between me and you
The Anonymous, ‘Green & Gold’
The writing challenge
We’d like you to add your voice to a long line of poets and MCs and write your own poem about gold. You can write about any aspect of the precious metal – ancient or modern.
You could explore a modern view of gold and its place in society; you could write about bling or why ‘golden’ is a synonym for ‘good’. Or you could explore the history of gold. You could take the role of a jeweller shaping gold, an archaeologist searching for gold; or look at its symbolism from the point of view of a king or queen. It’s up to you.
You can send a page poem written down, or a performance poem as a video or as an audio file – we can’t wait to see what you come up with!
How to enter
The challenge is now closed – but you can read the glittering winners and be inspired to write your own poem to submit to one of our Poetry Opportunities!
‘Midas’s Daughter’ by Alice Cattley
‘Gow’s Battle Cry’ by Magnus Dixon
‘Gold’ by Ben Vickers
‘The hobby of searching for gold’ by Julian Canlas
‘Gold Dust’ by Lucy Jessep
‘Gold Fever’ by Ailsa Dixon
The lucky winners will be published on Young Poets Network and on Royal Collection Trust’s website, and receive some goodies from The Queen’s Gallery shop. By entering, you give permission for Young Poets Network and Royal Collection Trust to reproduce your poem in print and online, though copyright remains with you.
Gold will run at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace from 7 November 2014-22 February 2015. More information at www.royalcollection.org.uk.