Letters & Opinion

A Brief History of Gold


Erwin Wiens


Its inherent properties are of little use

that either rhyme or reason can deduce.

It glitters and doesn’t rust. So does tinfoil,

so doesn’t lead.

It can’t be beaten either into swords or ploughshares

and brass serves as well for gilding public squares.

It can be coined and stamped with a king’s face

but so can paper, and it takes less space.


We, clever Europeans, once knew how to manage

its mythic lure to our advantage.

Sent our wooden ships across the sea

with plundered Inca gold to bewitch

a drowsy emperor and his Manchu minions.

Then homeward bound, athwart with silk and tea

and spices to tickle a sluggish Western palate.

We could have sent them useful stuff, beaver pelts

or teeming cod from our Grand Banks,

or proper trousers, or cuckoo clocks

to help them regulate their days. But no,

they wanted gold.


And so their empires crumbled—whether Ming,

Qing or Mughal—while ours ran riot, masters

of the meridians from Land’s End to Tienching.

For five centuries we ruled the world,

then they turned the tables on us. Now we

send them

wheat, canola, oil and potash, Grade A

pork and beef, our whole lobster quota,

our finest vintage wines and goose-down parkas,

and they

send us smartphones.


Erwin Wiens lives on Besserer St. in Sandy Hill