The Rich Man
Franklin P. Adams is one of the less known American modern poets. His poems, like the poems of many other 20th century American poets, comment the society after the industrial revolution. Adams poem, The Rich Man, concentrates on the class division between the rich and the poor. Furthermore it satirizes the old view of an impecunious life being the good and the virtuous one.
The two first stanzas of the poem are description about the rich man. The fact that he is called the rich man hints that the speaker him/herself is poor. The first stanza concentrates on describing the rich mans belongings. The first thing the reader finds out the rich man has is a motor-car, nowadays simply a car. In the beginning of the 20th century, when this poem was written, cars were very expensive and only the rich could afford them. His two houses, one in the country and one in the city, and the fact that he is smoking a cigar which costs as much as a good meal furthermore accentuate his richness.
The second stanza concentrates on the ease of life the rich man is experiencing. He doesnt have to struggle or even work to stay alive (He frivols through the livelong day). He is described as someone who has been born rich and who hasnt had the displeasure of meeting Poverty. The third line of the second stanza seems to suggest that he is happy: His lot seems light, his heart seems gay. At the latest here starts the reader to suspect whether the rich man is really happy behind all his wealth. Is there possibly a shadow behind what only seems to be light and what seems to be gay? It reminds the reader of the old saying that money doesnt bring happiness. The reader might even remember John Bartletts words The love of money is the root of all evil.
The third stanza continues to develop the theme of the possible darkness in the rich mans life. It begins with a rhetorical question asked by the poor man:
Yet though my lamp burns low dim,
Though I must slave for livelihood-
Think you that I would change with him?
The reader expects the answer to be no and followed with an explanation how the poor man is happy as he is and that money doesnt bring happiness. Wrong! The answer, You bet I would! declares a dramatic shift in the poem, which only the most prophetic reader could have anticipated. It throws Bartletts words right into the bin and brings in George Bernard Shaws response Lack of money is the root of all evil (Man and Superman, 1903). Money doesnt bring happiness but it is a great help or as Albert Camus said it It’s a kind of spiritual snobbery that makes people think they can be happy without money.
The Rich Man isnt a very technical poem. It is written in simple abab form and has little variation in the rhythm. On my opinion, the poet, Franklin P. Adams, has decided – with the risk of sounding nave – not to hide his thoughts behind complex techniques. But he does have some imagery and parallelism a casual reader could leave unnoticed. The two first stanzas both have a personified abstract thing – Fate in the first and Poverty in the second. Fate is personified (in addition to writing it with a capital letter) when the rich man jeers at it. Povertys personification is done by referring to it as her and the fact that it has a pinch. These two personified things assert that the rich man is above all; Not even the mythical Fate or Poverty can get to him.
The second and the third stanza are connected by their contrasting imagery. The second stanza starts with a bright image of how the rich man frivols through the livelong day, whereas the third stanza starts with a rather dark image of how the poor mans lamp burns low and dim. The word frivols(5) also contrasts the word slave (10). One could even say that Adams used the word light on the seventh line to contrast the dark and the bright even more. In addition, the