Poverty & Riches

I’m joining Nance in declaring June to be poetry month, even though officially that was April or something. Who cares. We didn’t know about it then, we know about it now, and we like poetry.

There’s a song, Hands, by Jewel that I like a lot. For some reason, it is often the song that comes to mind for me when horrible, huge things happen. Not personal things, not like my mom dying, or Genevieve going blind. I mean the attacks on September 11th, or yet another mass shooting or bombing, perhaps a devastating earthquake. In the face of tragedies like these, I find some comfort in the words of her song, which opens with the line, “If I could tell the world just one thing it would be that we’re all OK, and not to worry ’cause worry is wasteful and useless in times like these.” You can go see the video here, if you’re so inclined.

There’s a line in the song that was inspired by Pablo Neruda’s poem, Poverty.


Ah you don’t want to,
you’re scared
of poverty,
you don’t want
to go to the market with worn-out shoes
and come back with the same old dress.

My love, we are not fond
as the rich would like us to be,
of misery. We
shall extract it like an evil tooth
that up to now has bitten the heart of man.

But I don’t want
you to fear it.
If through my fault it comes to your dwelling,
if poverty drives away
your golden shoes,
let it not drive away your laughter which is my life’s bread.
If you can’t pay the rent
go off to work with a proud step,
and remember, my love, that I am watching you
and together we are the greatest wealth
that was ever gathered upon the earth.

This is not a poem to guide a person through a shattering catastrophe, through the deaths of thousands or the crimes of madmen. Instead, it is a poem that might guide through something much more personal. Yes, it says, we may be poor. You go to the store in your old dress and shoes, you may not be able to pay the rent. But please, don’t let poverty steal from you that person that I know and love. Don’t let it change you and destroy you and make you cower in fear. Even though we will refuse to be the happy poor that the rich might imagine, wanting nothing more but each other, that doesn’t mean that we cannot be, still, happy. In love. We may very much want more, but we won’t let poverty destroy our spirits.

This entry was posted in Poetry.

2 thoughts on “Poverty & Riches

  1. I know so little about poetry. I like this poem, but have to admit that most poetry leaves me confused. I feel like I’m lacking any context. That being said, I’m happy that both you and nance are doing this. Maybe I’ll learn something. You two can lead the way.

  2. Pablo Neruda is so accessible and real. He has a very nice lilt and cadence to his verse as well, and I think this is because of his syntax, which almost reads like a translation or a nineteenth century poem.

    One of the exercises I used to do with my creative writing classes was to have them take an abstract idea, like poverty, freedom, truth, pride, shame, fear, etc. and have them write a poem that describes or personifies it. This poem is like that. It creates images of what poverty is, does, and feels like.

    We can all relate to the feeling of not having nice new things whenever we want them, of going out shopping with friends and not being able to spend money freely like some of them may be able to. But even so, it doesn’t change who we are as a person.

    Above all the others, I love the sighed sentiment, “My love, we are not fond/as the rich would like us to be,/of misery.” I think the stereotype of the resigned, contented poor is real, along with the one of the brave terminal patients, and the sweet elderly women. And the One Percent fervently wish the Ninety-Nine Percent would simply smile and shut the heck up.

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