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Money, from "Money O!," a poem by W. H. Davies

Subthemes: Debt and Poverty, Salaries and Income, Inheritances

W. H. Davies’s poem, Money, O!, points out that money doesn’t buy happiness, but it attracts moochers. The poem offers a romanticized view of the poor whose hearts are ever light compared to the wealthy who coldly frown in part because they can’t trust the genuineness of their ostensible friends. The poem suggests several subthemes of Money.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Debt and Poverty: Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you” (Matthew 26:11). And with those poor, who have no money, often try to make ends meet needs by borrowing. If you owe money, you are in debt to your creditors. If you owe so much money that you cannot keep up interest charges or principal re-payments, debtors resort to pawnshops and moneylenders who exacerbate the grind of poverty because of the high rates they charge. Usury laws are designed to protect people from too-high interest charges, but they don’t constrain private loans. In the United States, wage earners may invoke Chapter 13 of the bankruptcy code, through which they can discharge portions of their debt upon their agreement with the court and creditors to follow a scheduled repayment plan for the remainder. The short of it is, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be”, as Polonius warned his son.

Salaries and Income: Those who work for an employer receive hourly wages, weekly pay, monthly take-home, or on another regular compensation. If you are an employee, you receive a salary; the word “salary” comes from Latin for salt, an early form of wage payment. If you are self-employed, such as a merchant in a market, you keep what you earn from your labors. With the expanding gig economy, more people are working for themselves delivering people or food or providing other services as opportunities arise. “As many as 55 million people in the United States were gig workers - or 34% of the workforce - in 2017, according to the International Labor Organization, and the total was projected to rise to 43% in 2020.” A final category characterizes poor people, who struggle to pick up whatever irregular, part-time work they can scrounge.

Inheritances: Many parents leave money and property to their children or other relatives under the terms of their will. The beneficiaries inherit from the estate without owing any taxes, and in cases of wealthy decedents, the amount can be a windfall bonanza. The law pertaining to wills and inter-generational transfers of assets, referred to as trusts and estates, is complex and favors those with enough money to hire crafty lawyers and accountants to plan shrewdly and minimize taxes. If a deceased person leaves no will, in most cases the estate of that person is divided between their heirs, which can be their surviving spouse, uncle, aunt, parents, nieces, nephews, and distant relatives.


The poem emphasizes one downside of wealth: hanger-ons and false friends swarm around to extract a piece of the money pie. Davies glorifies poor people, despite their possibly living in debt, as untroubled by such parasites, and having (perhaps) fewer but (surely) more honest friends.

If you are interested in further thoughts on the concept of Money, consider other subthemes that don’t fit as directly to the poem, painting, rock song, and movie written about in this series. For an overview, this article explains Themes from Art or click on the navigation bar, About.

We invite you to read about other poems discussed on this blog, and their themes. Here they are:

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