Golden Words

The theme today is Gold.  Gold as a metal has little useful purpose.  It does not corrode, so it is useful in certain applications, such as filling teeth and in certain electronics.  In truth though, you can easily find a cheaper substitute.

Gold is valuable because of its symbology and rarity.  In terms of Symbology Gold is an enduring and pure element.  A person who is described as “gold” is pure and good, as in the Spandau Ballet song.

Tolkien describes Aragorn as Gold that does not glitter.  A true element disguised as something base.

This is a reversal of the Shakespeare quote from the Merchant of Venice.  All that Glisters is not gold, do not be swayed by the surface of a thing, look deep for the “true gold”.

Frost also contrasts the enduring power of metal gold with the ephemeral quality of youth, natures first green.

Finally, Carlyle supports the idea of “concealed worth” by labeling Silence as Golden, Words are Silver, in contrast to the commonly held tenet of the “Golden Tongue”.

Pardon how rough these thought are, this is a rush job.

Firstly here is “Gold” by Spandau Ballet:

Merchant of Venice Act II – Scene VII: by William Shakespeare

All that glisters is not gold;
Often have you heard that told:
Many a man his life hath sold
But my outside to behold:
Gilded tombs do worms enfold.
Had you been as wise as bold,
Young in limbs, in judgement old
Your answer had not been inscroll’d
Fare you well, your suit is cold.

All that is Gold does not glitter: by J.R.R. Tolkien

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king

Nothing gold can stay: by Robert Frost

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.

Silence is Golden; by Thomas Carlyle

Speech is too often not, as the Frenchman defined it, the art of concealing Thought;

but of quite stifling and suspending Thought, so that there is none to conceal.

Speech too is great, but not the greatest.

As the Swiss Inscription says: Sprecfien ist silbern, Schweigen ist golden (Speech is silvern, Silence is golden);

or as I might rather express it: Speech is of Time, Silence is of Eternity.



On this second Sunday in Christmas let’s talk about the epiphany.  An epiphany is a “realisation”, a eureka moment.  In relation the Jesus Christ it was the realisation that this guy was the son of God as signalled and recognised by the arrival of the Magi.

So, 3 guys on camels show up and declare Jesus to be the son of God on January 6th?  Well…..not necessarily.  There are a few problems with the data.  Take the date for instance.  In the Western Church it is usually the 6th, but sometimes the 5th, or the nearest Sunday, or it may be after the 6th.

Some suggest that the visit was two years after the birth (because Herod ordered the massacre of children up to age 2)

In Eastern Churches the date celebrated was Jan 19th, the baptism of Jesus by John.  It had nothing to do with Magi.

And about these Magi, there were 3, and they were kings, right?  Well, maybe, maybe not.  Some traditions talk about 12.  The bible diplomatically refers to “some” wise men.  There were 3 gifts, so it made some sense to have each gift carried by one wise man.

Were they kings?  In some traditions they are.  In others not.  Their names vary from church to church.  The fact that they are called “Magi” suggests Zoroastrian origins and would support their arrival from the east, as the heart of the Zoroastrian religion was Persia.

So, some time after the birth of Jesus and before the flight into Egypt, an uncertain number of wise guys from the East who were following a star arrived in Bethlehem and declared Jesus the Messiah.  They fell down before him and presented him with gifts from their treasure boxes.

Life was so simple when the teacher just told you to shut up, get on stage and hand over the shiny box to Joseph.

The Journey Of The Magi ; by T.S. Eliot

‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kiking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Opportunity Knocks


Back in January 1848 a California settler by the name of John Sutter was busy building an agricultural empire on the American River near Sacramento.  His foreman, James Marshall, was working on a water powered lumber mill, and noticed some shiny metal in the tailrace.  Sutter and Marshall tested the metal and found it was Gold.

Now, you would imagine that they jumped up and down and cheered at this news, but you would be wrong.  Sutter realised that if news of the gold leaked out his dreams of farming this land would be over.  So his reaction was to keep the news quiet.  Well, he failed.  The news leaked out and was soon shouted in the streets.  By December 5th 1848 President Polk was able to confirm the rumour of the find to Congress in Washington.

So Sutter had, pretty much, a full year to develop the find before it became widespread knowledge.  The following year the ’49ers arrived from all over the world.  All told 300,000 people made the trip to California, half by land and half by sea.

Sutter suffered from what we in the industry might call “Marketing Myopia”.  He was short sighted to the opportunity.  He was so focused on the day to day work in front of him that he could not spot a huge opportunity when it landed at his feet.  Many business owners face a similar problem.  They are so busy IN their business that they don’t have time to work ON their business.  What he needed to do was sit down and review what his life goals were.  Instead of hiding the find he should have exploited it.  Farmland can be found all over the world, gold fields are rare.  If you find yourself sitting on a gold field you don’t plant onions.

If Sutter’s dream was to build an Agricultural empire then fine.  Build it.  But use the gold and build it faster.  In fact he could have been doing both.  Those 49’ers needed feeding, so Sutter could have taken the gold on his land and used it to buy farmland nearby.  He could have built his “agricultural empire” in a single year because he had capital and a market.

When opportunity knocks you don’t open the door and say “sorry, not buying today”.  Opportunity is something that needs to be recognised and grasped.  OK we don’t all find gold in our gardens, but opportunities abound everywhere.  Always be looking for the next big thing.  Who knows, you may just strike it lucky.


The Spell of the Yukon; by Robert Service

I wanted the gold, and I sought it;
I scrabbled and mucked like a slave.
Was it famine or scurvy—I fought it;
I hurled my youth into a grave.
I wanted the gold, and I got it—
came out with a fortune last fall,—
yet somehow life’s not what I thought it,
and somehow the gold isn’t all.

No! There’s the land. (Have you seen it?)
It’s the cussedest land that I know,
from the big, dizzy mountains that screen it
to the deep, deathlike valleys below.
Some say God was tired when He made it;
some say it’s a fine land to shun;
maybe; but there’s some as would trade it
for no land on earth—and I’m one.

You come to get rich (damned good reason);
you feel like an exile at first;
you hate it like hell for a season,
and then you are worse than the worst.
It grips you like some kinds of sinning;
it twists you from foe to a friend;
it seems it’s been since the beginning;
it seems it will be to the end.

I’ve stood in some mighty-mouthed hollow
that’s plumb-full of hush to the brim;
I’ve watched the big, husky sun wallow
in crimson and gold, and grow dim,
’till the moon set the pearly peaks gleaming,
and the stars tumbled out, neck and crop;
and I’ve thought that I surely was dreaming,
with the peace o’ the world piled on top.

The summer—no sweeter was ever;
the sunshiny woods all athrill;
the grayling aleap in the river,
the bighorn asleep on the hill.
The strong life that never knows harness;
the wilds where the caribou call;
the freshness, the freedom, the farness—
O God! how I’m stuck on it all.

The winter! the brightness that blinds you,
the white land locked tight as a drum,
the cold fear that follows and finds you,
the silence that bludgeons you dumb.
The snows that are older than history,
the woods where the weird shadows slant;
the stillness, the moonlight, the mystery,
I’ve bade ’em good-by—but I can’t.

There’s a land where the mountains are nameless,
and the rivers all run God knows where;
there are lives that are erring and aimless,
and deaths that just hang by a hair;
there are hardships that nobody reckons;
there are valleys unpeopled and still;
there’s a land—oh, it beckons and beckons,
and I want to go back—and I will.

They’re making my money diminish;
I’m sick of the taste of champagne.
Thank God! when I’m skinned to a finish
I’ll pike to the Yukon again.
I’ll fight—and you bet it’s no sham-fight;
it’s hell!—but I’ve been there before;
and it’s better than this by a damsite—
so me for the Yukon once more.

There’s gold, and it’s haunting and haunting;
it’s luring me on as of old;
yet it isn’t the gold that I’m wanting
so much as just finding the gold.
It’s the great, big, broad land ’way up yonder,
it’s the forests where silence has lease;
it’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
it’s the stillness that fills me with peace.

Sunken Treasure


Back in 1641 at a time when the English and the Spanish were getting along well a pair of English ships spent three years trading in the Caribbean.  The Galleons, Dover Merchant and Royal Merchant sailed back to Cadiz on their way home.  In the port of Cadiz there was a fire which damaged a Spanish vessel that was due to carry the payroll to the army in Flanders.  The English captain stepped in and offered to transport the gold and silver.

The two English ships were the worse for wear after a season at sea in the tropics.  There is no doubt that they were heavy with weed, and had bulging seams and rotten caulking.  Three years in the West Indies, under a punishing sun, can wreak havoc with planking and decking above the waterline.  They may also have been infested with ship-worm.  These days with modern steel ships, fibreglass and epoxy yachts we expect boats to be dry.  Leaks are something that must be fixed.  Traditional boat owners have a better sense of the realities of 17th century sailing.  Wooden boats must be filled with water on the inside if they are wintered on the dockside.  The timbers and caulking must be kept moist to prevent drying, which opens gaps in the seams.  I have sailed in a Galway hooker for the first outing of a season, to see cataracts of water cascade through the seams above the waterline as we heeled over in the wind.  Bailing and pumping out are part of the daily grind on a wooden ship.

Royal Merchant was leaking badly as they sailed through Biscay, being pumped out all the way.  Off Lands End the weather took a turn for the worse.  If your decks are leaking then rain and waves breaking on the deck add to your flooding woes.  The overworked pumps broke down and the leaking ship began to sink.  She went down off the Isles of Scilly, with the loss of 18 men.  The other 40 men managed to board the ships boats and were rescued by the Dover Merchant.

Royal Merchant was the most valuable ship ever to sink.  The salvage company that finds her stand to share in the region of one billion US dollars, once the legal teams figure out who owns the wreck.

Here is a poem about a sinking ship by Dora Sigerson Shorter.  Dora was one of the leading lights of the Irish literary revival and the explosion of Celtic Culture and 19th Century mysticism.  Given the context I think a closer reading may yield clues that it is not a Ship that is sinking, but something else.  But what?  Is this a poem in the vein of Yeats “September 1913” criticizing the bourgeoisie and the loss of direction in the struggle for Irish freedom?  Is it a paean for the stagnation of the art movement?  What is “the struggle” and who are “they” that shun it?  I would welcome your thoughts in the comments section.

The Sinking Ship; by Dora Sigerson Shorter

The ship is sinking, come ye one and all.
Stand fast and so this weakness overhaul,
Come ye strong hands and cheery voices call,
“Stand by!”

The ship is sinking in a summer sea,
Bless her but once for all she used to be,
Who rode the billows once so proud and free,
If you but loved a little, with a sigh,
“Stand by!”

Gone, all are gone, they neither hear or care,
The sun shines on and life is ever fair.
They shun the struggle, laughter lurks elsewhere.
The ship is sinking, passing echoes cry,
“Stand by!”

The little ships that pass her in the night,
Speed from the darkness in their eager fright.
From troubled dreams they take refuge in flight.
Why should they then, who know they too must die,
“Stand by”?

Then get you gone, desert the sinking ship,
O faithless friends, who on her pleasure-trip
Clung close with gentle words and smiling lip,
And still as ever on your own joys cry,
“Stand by!”

The ship is sinking, parting in a smile,
The sunset waters mark the last sad mile
In dimpling play and in a little while
The waters close, Death and his angels cry,
“Stand by!”