Robert Pinsky Reads Barnaby Gouge’s Poem "Of Money"

May 8, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


ROBERT PINSKY: Money, the lack of money, the fear of losing it, the power of it can be frightening, and that fear can be embittering. Sometimes values like friendship and personal loyalty can seem frail compared to sums and numbers.

Worries about the stock market or the economy will call the voice of Billy Holiday singing “God Bless the Child.” With money that song says you’ve got plenty of friends crowding around your door but when the money’s gone…and the spending ends, they don’t come around no more.

That same idea is anticipated in the grief stricken, angry, ironic poem written by Barnaby Gouge in the 16th Century. Gouge’s poem is only 10 lines long. It’s entitled simply: “Of Money.”

Of Money

Give money me, take friendship whoso list,
For friends are gone come once adversity,
When money yet remaineth safe in chest,
That quickly can thee bring from misery.
Fair face show friends, when money doth abound;
Come time of proof, farewell, they must away;
Believe me well, they are not to be found
If god but send thee once a lowering day.
Gold never starts aside, but in distress
Finds ways enough to ease thine heaviness.

Well, let’s hope, as I feel both Billy Holiday and Barnaby Gouge hoped, that it isn’t true.