April is National Financial Literacy Month and it’s also National Poetry Month. We think it’s a bad idea to put them in the same month.
On one side we have the Academy of American Poets which began National Poetry Month in 1996 to increase awareness and appreciation of poetry in the United States. On the other side, we have the US Senate which in 2003 passed Resolution 316, making April National Financial Literacy Month, and two years later the US House of Representatives passed a bill supporting the goals and ideals of Financial Literacy Month.
Because we have poetry and financial literacy occupying the same month, we’ve looked around for poems about money. There aren’t many. We’ve already posted “The Banks Are Made of Marble” by Pete Seeger and, anyway, we make a distinction between song lyrics and unadorned poems. After a critical search we think that “Money,” by Philip Larkin, is the best poem about money. Readers familiar with the rhythms and rhymes of conventional English verse may be unsettled by these unconventionally long lined couplets. We must add that Philip Larkin (1922 – 1985) was a distinguished British poet, a kind of unofficial Poet Laureate in England, and that the word screw in the poem is a Brit’s slang for salary or wages.
Quarterly, is it, money reproaches me:
‘Why do you let me lie here wastefully?
I am all you never had of goods and sex.
You could get them still by writing a few cheques.’
So I look at others, what they do with theirs:
They certainly don’t keep it upstairs.
By now they’ve a second house and car and wife:
Clearly money has something to do with life
—In fact, they’ve a lot in common, if you enquire:
You can’t put off being young until you retire,
And however you bank your screw, the money you save
Won’t in the end buy you more than a shave.
I listen to money singing. It’s like looking down
From long french windows at a provincial town,
The slums, the canal, the churches ornate and mad
In the evening sun. It is intensely sad.