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 man?s 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 doesn?t 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 hasn?t 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 doesn?t bring happiness. The reader might even remember John Bartlett?s words ?The love of money is the root of all evil?.
?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 doesn?t 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 Bartlett?s words right into the bin and brings in George Bernard Shaw?s response ?Lack of money is the root of all evil? (Man and Superman, 1903). Money doesn?t 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 isn?t 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 na?ve – 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. Poverty?s 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 man?s ?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 rich man ?has a cinch? (=an easy task, referring to his job) but the poor man ?must slave for livelihood?.
The Rich Man by Franklin P. Adams illustrates a poor man?s thoughts about a rich man. The poem lures the reader into thinking that the poor man is a virtuous man who doesn?t care about earthly pleasures, such as wealth, cars or houses. By portraying the rich man only through his possessions, the reader sees him as a very shallow, or even as a very unhappy person. Someone anyone wouldn?t want to be, anyway. This is why the poor man?s answer to the question is so surprising. The answer rips the reader back down from the clouds of virtuous choices. It is a slap on Bartlett?s cheek. To me, this poem offered a much more realistic view of life than any romantic poem.