I saw a car with a vanity plate the other day spelling out "Phat Kat." This is my attempt at a sketch of the fantasy that ensued when I was reminded of the 19th century English poet, A. H. Clough, whose 1850 poem "Dipsychus" includes these lines.
I drive through the streets, and I care not a damn;We're once again becoming as sharply divided between rich and poor as they were during Victorian times, and it's getting worse. If you've got it, many people seem think, you might as well flaunt it -- they've got theirs, and other people really aren't their concern.
The people they stare, and they ask who I am;
And if I should chance to run over a cad,
I can pay for the damage if ever so bad.
So pleasant it is to have money, heigh ho!
So pleasant it is to have money.
I didn't come across Clough's poem on my own. I first read these lines many years ago in The Quiet American, where Greene's protagonist and narrator Fowler reads them to the American, Pyle.
"That's a funny kind of poem," Pyle said with a note of disapproval.Greene felt no need to identify the poet, probably because the reference would have been clear to an educated British reader of the time. As for Americans -- well, that was the point, wasn't it? But the lines stuck in my mind even when I didn't know who had writen them. Tracking down obscure references like this was difficult in the days before Google. If your edition of Bartlett's didn't have it, you were out of luck -- or in for a lot of work. Now, of course it's easy.
"He was an adult poet of the nineteenth century. There weren't so many of them" I looked down into the street again. The trishaw driver had moved away.
While search methods have changed, economic reality hasn't changed all that much. The fault lines have just become more visible. In good times, when the American pie is big enough for most everyone to get at least enough of a slice to keep hope alive, it's easy to forget who owns what and how much. Now we're being reminded all over again, with a callousness that's appalling.
Keep your eyes open -- or you might get run over.