Playwrights, poets and novelists have long found invaluable the two words 'gold' and 'golden'. Thus Shakespeare set the scene of Cleopatra drifting down the river Nile with her lover Antony:
The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne, Burn'd on the water; the poop was beaten gold, ..... ..... For her own person, It beggar'd all description; she did lie In her pavilion, cloth-of-gold of tissue - - (Antony and Cleopatra, act II, scene 2)
The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations chooses over one hundred quotations on gold and almost fifty for golden. From the Bible's "The city was pure gold, like unto clear glass" (Revelation, chapter 21, verse 18) to Milton's "Time will run back, and fetch the age of gold" (Hymn: On the Morning of Christ's Nativity, line 135), the word suggests a special image, not least to those in love. The poet John Donne evoked:
Come live with me, and be my love, And we will some new pleasures prove Of golden sands, and crystal brooks With silken lines, and silver hooks. - (John Donne, The Bait)
In Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, as the lovers are finally re-united in the final act, we hear:
Sit, Jessica; look, how the floor of heaven Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold ... - (Merchant of Venice, act 5, scene 1)
The poet Robert Browning simply asked:
Is she not pure gold, my mistress?
"The literature of so many ages has applied the adjective 'golden' in a certain way," observed the historian C. H. V. Sutherland in Gold: Its beauty, power and allure (gold library/history), "its foremost and constant connotation has been that of something which is naturally loved, naturally desirable, naturally pre-eminent". Perhaps he had been reading the poet George Meredith who wrote:
.... Let us breathe the air of the Enchanted Island. Golden lie the meadows; golden run the streams; red gold is on the pine-stems .... The sun is coming down to earth, and the fields and the waters shout to him golden shouts. - (The Ordeal of Richard Feverel, chapter 19)
The evocation of gold can sometimes give us historic insights into the use of the metal. Christopher Marlowe's Dr Faustus vows:
I'll have them fly to India for gold, Ransack the ocean for Orient pearl. - (Christopher Marlowe: Dr Faustus, lines 110/111)
The lines, written about 1604, cast a fascinating sidelight on the fact that four centuries ago India was already famous as a market for gold. And Marlowe's contemporary John Donne appreciated gold's unique malleability and ductility, which enables it to be transformed into gold leaf seventy-five millionths of a millimetre (three-millionths of an inch) thick, when he wrote, "Like gold to airy thinness beat" (A Valediction Forbidding Morning).
Lack of gold can, of course, be a cause for wry comment. Geoffrey Chaucer remarks in his description of the Clerk of Oxford in his Canterbury Tales:
But al be that he was a philisophre, Yet hadde he but litel gold in cofre.
A sideswipe at 13th century alchemy and those who sought the 'stone of philosophers', the agent that would transmute base metals into gold. Rudyard Kipling, on the other hand, had a pragmatic view of gold's role in a later industrial age:
Gold is for the mistress - silver for the maid - Copper for the craftsman, cunning at his trade. 'Good!' said the Baron, sitting in his hall, But Iron - Cold Iron - is master of them all. - (Rudyard Kipling, Cold Iron)
For novelists, gold offers adventure and cautionary tales. To Robert Louis Stevenson in Treasure Island the lure is buried pirate gold, for Jack London in Call of the Wild and White Fang the harsh life of the goldfields provides the setting - and the call of the wilderness is almost as much as the call of gold. More moving is George Eliot's Silas Marner, the story of a linen-weaver in a small English village, a lonely man but brilliant at his work, who liked to be paid in gold guineas, which he hoarded beneath the floor of his cottage. One day the gold was stolen, leaving him desolate; a desolation resolved one winter evening when a lost child, whose mother had died in the snow, wandered into his home and fell asleep before his fire. When he first saw her, it seemed to Silas Marner "as if there were gold on the floor in front of the hearth". It was not his own gold returned, but a child with soft yellow ringlets of hair all over her head.
Last word might go to George Bernard Shaw, the Irish playwright and gadfly, who wittily coined the maxim, "The golden rule is that there are no golden rules".