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Written by William H. Davies, this poem contains five stanzas of four lines each. The poet notes that money is not always a source of joy or happiness. He also compares the rich and the poor to say that the poor live happier and laugh more freely than the rich.
When I had money, money, O! I knew no joy till I went poor; For many a false man as a friend Came knocking all day at my door.
The speaker believes that though a rich man has many friends, most of them are not his well-wishers. It is one’s money that decides the size of a man’s social circle. By saying that “I knew no joy till I went poor”, the speaker means that money tempts false friends and thus deprives the rich man of real happiness.
Then felt I like a child that holds A trumpet that he must not blow Because a man is dead; I dared Not speak to let this false world know.
As a rich man, the speaker felt constricted because he was expected to live a certain way. This way, his money became a source of burden and not a cause of delight. It became a factor that held him back from living life freely. This is why he compares wealth or material possessions to a trumpet that he must not blow.
Much have I thought of life, and seen How poor men's hearts are ever light; And how their wives do hum like bees About their work from morn till night.
By saying that “poor men’s hearts are ever light”, the speaker means that an abundance of wealth does not guarantee happiness. He believes that the poor men are happier because they lead a life of contentment. While the poor men’s wives do hum like bees, the rich men’s wives remain worried about safeguarding their acquired wealth.
So, when I hear these poor ones laugh, And see the rich ones coldly frown Poor men, think I, need not go up So much as rich men should come down.
This stanza most clearly voices the central idea of the poem. While the poor ones laugh, the rich ones coldly frown. This means that climbing the ladder of material success does not certainly bring fulfilment. Despite their poverty, the poor are happy and free. So it is not they who need to go up, but the rich men should come down. Once the rich man comes down, that is, removes himself from the unending race for money, he too will gain the contentment that the poor man enjoys.
When I had money, money, O! My many friends proved all untrue; But now I have no money, O! My friends are real, though very few.
The speaker is delighted as he says, “But now I have no money”. He believes that true friendship is one that stands against the tides of material wealth. Most of the friends that he had, abandoned him after he lost wealth, and this left the speaker with very few friends. But he rejoices in the fact that though very few, he now has real friends.
This poem concludes that money does not determine one’s happiness. The speaker himself is delighted to be poor but happy. Though money gives the illusion of bringing happiness and a bigger friend circle, it actually only brings untrue friends and worries.