Dull, yellow, heavy, lustreless—
With less of radiance than the burnished tress,
Crumpled on Beauty's forehead: cloddish, cold,
Kneaded together with the common mold!
Worn by sharp contact with the fretted edges
Of ancient drifts, or prisoned in deep ledges;
Hidden within some mountain's rugged breast
From man's desire and quest—
Would thou could'st speak and tell the mystery
That shrines thy history!
Yet 'tis of little consequence,
To-day, to know how thou wert made, or whence
Earthquake and flood have brought thee: thou art here,
At once the master that men love and fear—
Whom they have sought by many strange devices,
In ancient river-beds; in interstices
Of hardest quartz; upon the wave-wet strand,
Where curls the tawny sand
By mountain torrents hurried to the main,
And thence hurled back again:—
Yes, suffered, dared, and patiently
Offered up everything, O gold, to thee!—
Home, wife and children, native soil, and all
That once they deemed life's sweetest, at thy call;
Fled over burning plains; in deserts fainted;
Wearied for months at sea—yet ever painted
Thee as the shining Mecca, that to gain
Cured the sick soul—made nugatory evil
Of man or devil.
Alas, and well-a-day! we know
What idle dreams were these that fooled men so.
On yonder hillside sleep in nameless graves,
To which they went untended, the poor slaves
Of fruitless toil; the victims of a fever
Called home-sickness—no remedy found ever;
Or slain by vices that grow rankly where
Men madly do and dare,
In alternations of high hope and deep abysses
Painfully, and by violence:
Even as heaven is taken, thou wert dragged whence
Nature had hidden thee—whose face is worn
With anxious furrows, and her bosom torn
In the hard strife—and ever yet there lingers
Upon these hills work for the "effacing fingers"
Of time, the healer, who makes all things seem
A half forgotten dream;
Who smooths deep furrows and lone graves together,
By touch of wind and weather.
Thou heavy, lustreless, dull clod!
Digged from the earth like a base common sod;
I wonder at thee, and thy power to hold
The world in bond to thee, thou yellow gold!
Yet do I sadly own thy fascination,
And would I gladly show my estimation
By giving house-room to thee, if thou'lt come
And cumber up my home;—
I'd even promise not to call attention
To these things that I mention!
"The King can do no wrong," and thou
Art King indeed to most of us, I trow.
Thou'rt an enchanter, at whose sovereign will
All that there is of progress, learning, skill,
Of beauty, culture, grace—and I might even
Include religion, though that flouts at heaven—
Comes at thy bidding, flies before thy loss;—
And yet men call thee dross!
If thou art dross then I mistaken be
Of thy identity.
Ah, solid, weighty, beautiful!
How could I first have said that thou wert dull?
How could have wondered that men willingly
Gave up their homes, and toiled and died for thee?
Theirs was the martyrdom in which was planted
A glorious State, by precious memories haunted:
Ours is the comfort, ease, the power, the fame
Of an exalted name:
Theirs was the struggle of a proud ambition—
Ours is the full fruition.
Thou, yellow nugget, wert the star
That drew these willing votaries from afar,
'Twere wrong to call thee lustreless or base
That lightest onward all the human race,
Emblem art thou, in every song or story,
Of highest excellence and brightest glory:
Thou crown'st the angels, and enthronest Him
Who made the cherubim:
My reverend thought indeed is not withholden,
O nugget golden!