The Joy of Being Poor

Not sarcasm. During our stay in San Marcos, we went and hung out with Chris’s friend Ryan for an evening, and apparently Ryan likes to read poetry to his friends after a couple of glasses of wine (thanks for sharing by the way!).  I’m not a fan of most poetry because so many poets are too flowery or dramatic for my taste, but poems can be powerful for me when they are relatively direct and well written about something personally relevant. Anyway, Ryan read us a poem called “The Joy of Being Poor” by Robert William Service. As you can tell since I’m still thinking about it and now telling you about it weeks later, this one hit me pretty hard.  Enjoy:


Let others sing of gold and gear, the joy of being rich;
But oh, the days when I was poor, a vagrant in a ditch!
When every dawn was like a gem, so radiant and rare,
And I had but a single coat, and not a single care;
When I would feast right royally on bacon, bread and beer,
And dig into a stack of hay and doze like any peer;
When I would wash beside a brook my solitary shirt,
And though it dried upon my back I never took a hurt;
When I went romping down the road contemptuous of care,
And slapped Adventure on the back — by Gad! we were a pair;
When, though my pockets lacked a coin, and though my coat was old,
The largess of the stars was mine, and all the sunset gold;
When time was only made for fools, and free as air was I,
And hard I hit and hard I lived beneath the open sky;
When all the roads were one to me, and each had its allure . . .
Ye Gods! these were the happy days, the days when I was poor.

Or else, again, old pal of mine, do you recall the times
You struggled with your storyettes, I wrestled with my rhymes;
Oh, we were happy, were we not? — we used to live so “high”
(A little bit of broken roof between us and the sky);
Upon the forge of art we toiled with hammer and with tongs;
You told me all your rippling yarns, I sang to you my songs.
Our hats were frayed, our jackets patched, our boots were down at heel,
But oh, the happy men were we, although we lacked a meal.
And if I sold a bit of rhyme, or if you placed a tale,
What feasts we had of tenderloins and apple-tarts and ale!
And yet how often we would dine as cheerful as you please,
Beside our little friendly fire on coffee, bread and cheese.
We lived upon the ragged edge, and grub was never sure,
But oh, these were the happy days, the days when we were poor.

Alas! old man, we’re wealthy now, it’s sad beyond a doubt;
We cannot dodge prosperity, success has found us out.
Your eye is very dull and drear, my brow is creased with care,
We realize how hard it is to be a millionaire.
The burden’s heavy on our backs — you’re thinking of your rents,
I’m worrying if I’ll invest in five or six per cents.
We’ve limousines, and marble halls, and flunkeys by the score,
We play the part . . . but say, old chap, oh, isn’t it a bore?
We work like slaves, we eat too much, we put on evening dress;
We’ve everything a man can want, I think . . . but happiness.
Come, let us sneak away, old chum; forget that we are rich,
And earn an honest appetite, and scratch an honest itch.
Let’s be two jolly garreteers, up seven flights of stairs,
And wear old clothes and just pretend we aren’t millionaires;
And wonder how we’ll pay the rent, and scribble ream on ream,
And sup on sausages and tea, and laugh and loaf and dream.

And when we’re tired of that, my friend, oh, you will come with me;
And we will seek the sunlit roads that lie beside the sea.
We’ll know the joy the gipsy knows, the freedom nothing mars,
The golden treasure-gates of dawn, the mintage of the stars.
We’ll smoke our pipes and watch the pot, and feed the crackling fire,
And sing like two old jolly boys, and dance to heart’s desire;
We’ll climb the hill and ford the brook and camp upon the moor . . .
Old chap, let’s haste, I’m mad to taste the Joy of Being Poor.


This hits me on two fronts–the first and most obvious being that I miss the indescribable sense of abandon and living simply on the JMT now that I’m back in the real world.  But on a deeper level I’m kind of at this transition in my life right now.  Not between being poor and rich, but between the bliss of youthful freedom and limited responsibility, and now having more expected of me.  I sometimes mostly find the “more” expected of me to be misguided, and based largely on what many people falsely think is important in life.  My mom (among others) was worried I wouldn’t be able to find a job if, during my interviews, I was giving the stipulation that I delay my hire date for a month after graduating so I could do the JMT.  What these well-meaning people don’t realize is that I don’t care to work somewhere that doesn’t value this as a worthy endeavor, or me as a person more than just as their worker bee.  One place didn’t hire me because of it, and I’m so glad they didn’t. It was a job in Houston (where I didn’t want to live), for a good bit less pay, NOT doing Hydrogeology. WHY do we reach a point somewhere early in adulthood where people stop telling you to “chase your dreams/you can be anything you put your mind to/don’t settle”, and they start saying “everyone has to start somewhere/you’ll work your way up”?  This all too abundant jaded perspective leaves most of us (even if you share in the cynicism) longing for simpler times, .

No one looks back on college with sadness because they didn’t have more money. Somehow it’s so much more obvious in those years that living in the luxury student housing isn’t going to provide a fountain of happiness.  Most people actually enjoy reminiscing about their ramen dinners, the hourly jobs they worked, the tiny apartment they shared with friends, the low-budget road trips they took with those friends, or even the shitty beer they drank.  My favorite memories in no way involve luxury.  I miss nights playing guitar hero with my best friends, taking my dog for strolls around campus at midnight, and days spent yelling at computers with fellow environmental people in the stinky basement lab in the geography building.  One of the best was cramming 4 people in a Honda Fit all the way from College Station to Colorado to watch a football game we would lose. We played “jellybean roulette” with the Bertie Botts jelly beans we found at a candy store instead of going skiing with all the rich kids who flew there, and then slept in freezing tents at a Raton KOA on the way home, where some of the road warriors didn’t actually sleep in their nipple-high child’s sleeping bag and wore a face mask for 30 minutes after getting in the car the next morning.  It was silly and carefree (aside from the Aggies losing yet another game they should have won) and is a treasured memory…one I wouldn’t trade for the joys of being rich.