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Gold! by Thomas Hood

Thomas Hood’s “Gold!” is a short moral poem on gold and the impact that it has on human life. Gold as a metal has always been coveted by humans. It was more valuable in Hood’s era, as gold was also the standard by which Britain’s financial stability was measured. Thus, Hood cautioned people against their greed for gold. The poem is an extract from Hood’s long satirical narrative poem “Miss Kilmansegg and her Precious Leg.” Hood was known for his use of humor. “Miss Kilmansegg and Her Precious Leg” was a satire that used humor to point out the follies of humankind. However, this short poem is devoid of it. Instead, Hood decides to moralize by illustrating what gold means to humans and how it has the power to both save and ruin people’s lives.

  • Read the full text of “Gold!” below:
Gold!
by Thomas Hood

Gold! Gold! Gold! Gold!
Bright and yellow, hard and cold,
Molten, graven, hammer'd and roll'd;
Heavy to get, and light to hold;
Hoarded, barter'd, bought, and sold,
Stolen, borrow'd, squander'd, doled:
Spurn'd by the young, but hugg'd by the old
To the very verge of the churchyard mould;
Price of many a crime untold;

Gold! Gold! Gold! Gold:
Good or bad a thousand-fold!
  How widely its agencies vary—
To save—to ruin—to curse—to bless—
As even its minted coins express,
Now stamp'd with the image of Good Queen Bess,
  And now of a Bloody Mary.

 - from The Poetical Works of Thomas Hood
Analysis of Gold! by Thomas Hood


Summary

“Gold!” by Thomas Hood describes humanity’s fascination with precious metal. In this poem, the poet explains how gold has been coveted by humans in its various forms. He describes the shiny yellow metal and the different ways that it has been used: “Molten, graven, hammer’d and roll’d.”

According to Hood, it is difficult to attain, but it is also easily spent. He mentions the difficulty with which gold is attained and how it is used as a currency. Men have hoarded gold and stolen it. They have borrowed it, wasted it, and doled it out (given gold away) for charity. The young do not understand the value of gold, so they scorn it. The old take their fascination with gold to their graves. Gold has led men to commit many crimes. It has blessed people and cursed them, it has saved lives from poverty, but it has also ruined several lives.

Hood ends his poem by saying that even the appearance of minted gold coins varies with age. He refers to “Queen Bess,” that is, Queen Elizabeth I of England (1558-1603), and “Bloody Mary,” Queen Mary Tudor (1553-1558). They had their faces stamped on the currency (gold coins) during their reign.

Meaning

The poem explores the impact of gold on humans: what exactly does gold mean to people? Hood decided to write a cautionary poem warning his readers. He refers to the hoarding of gold in his poem, which shows that he was aware of the increasing materialism of his age. The poem is not scathing in its caution, but it is also about the lives that were ruined because of gold.

“Gold!” is short but fairly easy to understand. The poem describes the insatiable greed for gold in humans, which often compels them to act in unscrupulous ways. The tone of the poem is not humorous, but the repeated use of the expression “Gold!” makes for striking imagery and emphasis. Hood uses exclamation marks to add emphasis on the subject further, so it sounds like an obsessive chant.

Structure & Form

“Gold!” is a short poem of sixteen lines. Hood uses a nearly perfect rhyme scheme in the first eleven lines of his poem. It brings out the “au” sound of gold and gives a rhythmic pattern to those lines. The rhyme enables the speaker to emphasize gold, thus embedding its image in the mind of the listener. From this line, Hood intelligently changes the rhyming pattern to ABBBA. He uses the word “vary” at the end of line 11 to hint at a different direction other than the good aspects of gold and the change of rhyming pattern. From the next line to the 15th, he ends each line with a similar rhyme. The poem comes to closure by connecting the rhyme of the last line with the 11th line.

Apart from that, the poem is mostly written in iambic tetrameter with a few variations. For instance, there are trochaic variations in lines 3, 5, and 6. The rest of the lines of the first stanza are roughly in iambic tetrameter. The second stanza follows the same metrical pattern, except line 15, which is in iambic pentameter. Hood uses trochees in order to tweak the sound scheme of the poem. Let’s have a look at the scansion of the poem to have an overall understanding of the meter.

Gold!/ Gold!/ Gold!/ Gold!

Bright/ and yel/-low, hard/ and cold,

Molt-en,/ grav-en,/ ham-mer’d/ and roll’d;

Hea-vy/ to get,/ and light/ to hold;

Hoard-ed,/ bar-ter’d,/ bought, and/ sold,

Sto-len,/ bor-row’d,/ squan-der’d,/ doled:

Spurn’d by/ the young,/ but hugg’d/ by the old

To the/ ve-ry/ verge of/ the church/-yard mould;

Price of/ ma-ny/ a crime/ un-told;

Gold!/ Gold!/ Gold!/ Gold:

Good/ or bad/ a thou/-sand-fold!

    How wide/-ly its/ a-gen/-cies va-ry

To save/—to ruin/—to curse/—to bless

As e/-ven its mint/-ed coins/ ex-press,

Now stamp’d/ with the/ i-mage/ of Good/ Queen Bess,

    And now/ of a/ Blo-ody/ Ma-ry.


Poetic Devices

The use of poetic devices makes the poem richer. Hood uses the following devices to make a more significant impact on the readers/listeners.

  • Palilogy: The first and tenth lines of the poem contain a repetition of the same word, “Gold.” This palilogy is meant for describing the speaker’s fascination with the metal.
  • Alliteration: There are many examples of alliteration in the poem, such as “Gold! Gold!”, “barter’d, bought,” “sold,/ Stolen,” and “very verge.”
  • Assonance: Due to its rhyme scheme, vowel sounds are frequently repeated throughout the poem; for instance, in “Molten, graven, hammer’d and roll’d” and “Stolen, borrow’d, squander’d, doled,” the “e” and “au” sounds are repeated, respectively.
  • Imagery: The striking imagery of gold in the poem comes from Hood’s use of visual images. He uses words like “bright” and “yellow” to describe the sheen of the metal. He uses tactile imagery in words like “molten,” “graven,” “hammered,” and “rolled” to describe the ductility and malleability of gold. The reader can almost see a visual as well as a tactile image of gold being melted, hammered, or rolled into sheets.
  • Juxtaposition: Hood uses this device to bring out the dual nature of gold. For instance, in the following line, he talks about how gold has the power to save and ruin lives, to curse and bless people: “To save—to ruin—to curse—to bless—”. He describes how it is challenging to attain gold, but once attained, one can easily spend it: “Heavy to get, and light to hold.”
  • Allusion: The phrase “Good Queen Bess” is an allusion to Queen Elizabeth I, and “Bloody Mary” is a reference to the Queen Mary Tudor who reigned before Queen Elizabeth.


Line-by-Line Analysis & Explanation

Lines 1-4

Gold! Gold! Gold! Gold!

Bright and yellow, hard and cold,

Molten, graven, hammer’d and roll’d;

Heavy to get, and light to hold;

Thomas Hood begins the poem by exclaiming, “Gold! Gold! Gold! Gold!”. The repetition and exclamation marks put more emphasis on the subject. Hood then uses vivid images to describe the physical qualities or characteristics of gold. Gold is a bright yellow, almost like the sun. But it is “hard” and “cold.” The use of the adjectives “hard” and “cold” seem to hint at the sinister nature of gold. Gold is malleable and ductile; it can be bent into any shape. One can hammer down gold or engrave on it. The metal can be molten or rolled, as per need. It is hard to obtain but very quickly spent. Hood is so fascinated with the metal that he goes on to describe its nature in the following lines.

Lines 5-9

Hoarded, barter’d, bought, and sold,

Stolen, borrow’d, squander’d, doled:

Spurn’d by the young, but hugg’d by the old

To the very verge of the churchyard mould;

Price of many a crime untold;

People have hoarded gold and used it as an economic exchange. It has been stolen and squandered by people. It has also been given willingly in small amounts (“doled”) and borrowed. The word “doled” is also suggestive of charity as one usually “doles out” some money or food for the poor. Hood may have implied that people are reluctant to part with their money. Thus, they give gold in small shares for charity. Besides, the young usually reject gold, but the old understand its value. Hood writes that the old pursue gold until they die. Ironically, people have also paid heavily for gold by committing crimes.

Lines 10-16

Gold! Gold! Gold! Gold:

Good or bad a thousand-fold!

    How widely its agencies vary—

To save—to ruin—to curse—to bless—

As even its minted coins express,

Now stamp’d with the image of Good Queen Bess,

    And now of a Bloody Mary.

Hood repeats the first line at the beginning of this stanza, and it creates a dramatic effect for the listener/reader. It mirrors a chant and reflects the obsession of humankind with this metal. The poet writes that gold has both a good and bad impact on people. Its power varies and thus affects people in different ways. Hood ends the poem by reiterating the theme that gold can have both positive and negative impacts on people. It has ruined and saved lives, cursed and blessed people in equal measures. It is fickle, as even the faces of Queens stamped on it change with every regime.

Themes

Greed for Gold

The metal gold is symbolic of wealth and materialism. However, unrestrained greed for gold is symbolic of a corrupt soul. It is why the unchecked pursuit of gold is so often portrayed in myths as immoral. This is at the core of Hood’s poem “Gold!” Hood ends his long narrative of “Miss KIlmansegg” with “Her Moral,” and this moral was encapsulated in this poem. It is revealing of the Victorian ethos, a society that was on the cusp of change. There was an interest in amassing wealth, an interest that was shared by the middle class. Earlier wealth was limited to the royals or feudal lords, but the Victorian age was the age of upward mobility. Therefore, the theme of “Gold!” is the dual nature of the metal: it can save and corrupt people.

Duality

Thomas Hood uses juxtapositions to bring out the theme of duality further. The old remains obsessed with gold until they are on the precipice of death (“churchyard mould”). The young, however, do not understand its importance. Hood describes the relationship that humans have had with gold, but he also describes the metal itself. He describes how the “agencies” of gold vary. That is, gold holds power in various ways over people. Some are redeemed by gold; others are pushed to ruin.

Power

Hood ends the poem by mentioning the two half-sisters who ruled Britain, “Queen Bess” and “Bloody Mary.” Queen Bess refers to Queen Elizabeth I, whereas her half-sister Mary Tudor was referred to as “Bloody Mary” for her religious persecutions. Both were perceived differently by the public. Elizabeth was adored, but Mary became an unpopular queen. Both of them had their faces stamped on gold coins when they held power. Here again, this power has a very contrasting impact on people: Elizabeth’s reign was welcome, but Queen Mary faced a rebellion and ruled for a short period.

Historical Context

Thomas Hood was a minor poet and humorist from the Romantic era in Britain. As a serious poet, he derived much from the style of Keats. However, Hood soon developed his individuality in writing. He was known for his scathing satires and humor and frequented the same literary circle as Charles Lamb, Thomas de Quincey, and John Clare. In the preface to The Comic Poems of Thomas Hood, his son writes how Hood had half-jokingly proposed his epitaph: “Here lies one who spat more blood and made more puns than any man living.”

These words give modern readers a glimpse of the man that Hood used to be – witty, self-aware, and still capable of handling serious matters that plagued the London of his times. It also describes his poetic style, which would often be hilarious but carry heavy themes such as grave robbing and selling and working condition of the poor.

Today gold may have been replaced by paper currency, but it is still a valuable financial asset. In Hood’s time, gold was the measure of England’s finances. While England had borrowed the basic pre-decimal system of pounds and shillings from France, the country still had the system of the gold standard. This meant that England was considered financially stable as long as the country did not run out on gold reserves.

The gold standard was followed internationally because foreign countries and colonies believed in the stability of British currency. England was at the seat of industrialization and materialistic growth, and thus, gold was extremely valuable. Hood is, therefore, very deliberate when he mentions how an excessive lust for gold has led people to crimes. Gold has ruined lives and will continue to do it, so long as mankind’s obsession for materialistic gain remains.

About “Miss Kilmansegg and her Precious Leg”

The poem “Gold!” is an extract from one of his long comic poems titled “Miss Kilmansegg and her Precious Leg.” The poem is a satirical take on the pursuit of wealth in English society and is divided into multiple sections such as “Her Pedigree,” “Her Marriage,” “Her Death,” etc. The long narrative verse pokes fun at a certain Miss Kilmansegg, who was so consumed with the pursuit of gold that she had a prosthetic leg made out of it. The poem is tragic, but the tone is humorous, which is why it could be read as an early version of the black comedy genre.

Throughout the poem, he indirectly attacks the follies of pursuing gold. Miss Kilmansegg ends up dying because of her gold leg, and that in itself is a warning to the readers. However, Hood ends his long narrative with “Her Moral,” where he explicitly cautions the reader against greed. The section “Her Moral” is often titled “Gold!” and becomes a fitting end to Thomas Hood’s satire.

Questions and Answers

What is the central idea of the poem “Gold!” by Thomas Hood?

Thomas Hood’s “Gold!” describes the power that gold holds over humanity. Hood writes about both the positive and negative impact of gold on humans and how humans spend a lifetime trying to amass more of it.

What does Thomas Hood mean by the line, “To the very verge of the churchyard mould”?

The phrase “To the very verge of the churchyard mould” literally refers to the precipice of the grave. “Churchyard mould” symbolizes the grave or death. Hood explains how people spend their life chasing after gold and finally end up in to grave with nothing but exhaustion, frustration, and anxiety.

Who are “Queen Bess” and “Bloody Mary” in the poem “Gold!”?

“Queen Bess” refers to Queen Elizabeth I of England (1558-1603), and “Bloody Mary” was her half-sister, the Queen Mary Tudor (1553-1558).


Similar Poems

  • Money Madness” by D. H. Lawrence — This poem is about humankind’s greed for money and their craze for accumulating wealth.
  • The Toys” by Coventry Patmore — It’s another piece from the Victorian era, which deals with how God would judge grown-ups for their attraction towards worldly “toys.”
  • A Brave and Startling Truth” by Maya Angelou — This poem conveys the ultimate truth that humankind has to accept to better the world.
  • Iron” by Elizabeth Acevedo — In this piece, Acevedo uses the metal iron as a symbol of resistance against racial brutalities.


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