‘Your Riches — taught me — Poverty’ is an interesting poem that Dickinson wrote with her friend Sue in mind. She included the text of the piece in a letter to Susan Huntington Dickinson in 1862. The note attached to the poem read: “Dear Sue-You see I remember-Emily.” This line suggests that the following stanzas were in reference to the childhood relationship.
Explore Your Riches — taught me — Poverty
The speaker starts out this piece by referring to a young girl she knew when she was in school. This person came into her life and showed her that wealth was something else entirely. Up until this point, the speaker, who s generally considered to be Dickinson, didn’t know what poverty was. Now, she recognizes the vast difference between herself and this young girl. Throughout the poem, Dickinson tries to illuminate the differences between them while also pining after time with Sue. Although she slipped through Dickinson’s fingers when they were younger, she’s taken some solace in watching her throughout the years and in the general knowledge that that kind of wealth exists.
In ‘Your Riches — taught me — Poverty,’ the poet engages with themes of wealth/poverty and happiness. Her perceptions of all of these things changed when she was younger. She explains how she saw the world one way and was content with it and then realized that things were not as she thought. There was a different kind of wealth in the world, one that is embodied by her friend Sue. She expresses a longing to be around this person that transcends everything else in her life. Although she experienced sorrow when they parted as young girls, she still feels happy when she looks back on the memory of that time.
Structure and Form
‘Your Riches — taught me — Poverty’ by Emily Dickinson is an eight-stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines. These lines follow a rhyme scheme of ABCB, changing end sounds from stanza to stanza. This is a very common pattern within Dickinson’s poetry and can be found in some of her best-known works. As is often the case in her poetry, Dickinson alternates lines of iambic trimeter and iambic tetrameter in this piece.
Dickinson makes use of several literary devices in ‘Your Riches—taught me—Poverty.’ These include but are not limited to alliteration, enjambment, and similes. The latter is a comparison between two things that uses “like” or “as.” For example, the last lines of the first stanza read, “In little Wealths, as Girls could boast / Till broad as Buenos Ayre.” This is only one example of figurative language in the poem; there are several more.
Alliteration is a type of repetition that appears in this piece. For example, “Myself” and “millionaire” in line two of the first stanza and “Peru” and “Poverty” in lines two and three of the second stanza.
Enjambment is a formal device that readers can also find in ‘Your Riches—taught me—Poverty.’ For example, the transition between lines three and four of the first stanza as well as lines one and two of the seventh stanza.
Stanzas One and Two
Your Riches — taught me — Poverty.
Myself — a Millionaire
In little Wealths, as Girls could boast
Till broad as Buenos Ayre —
You drifted your Dominions —
A Different Peru —
And I esteemed all Poverty
For Life’s Estate with you —
In the first two stanzas of ‘Your Riches — taught me — Poverty,’ the speaker begins by talking to “you.” With context clues, readers can assume that this is someone like Dickinson’s childhood friend, Sue, who was much richer than she was. She tells this person that their wealth taught her what poverty is. It wasn’t something she ever thought about before, but now she’s aware of it.
The next lines confuse the matter somewhat as it’s unclear whether or not the speaker has money or considers herself poor. With some analysis, it becomes clear that the poet is thinking about how she considered herself before she met Sue. She was wealthy in all the things that normally matter to little girls. This lasted until she noticed Sue’s vast wealth and attractiveness. It was as broad and interesting as “Buenos Aires,” which Dickinson changes to “Buenos Ayre” to rhyme with “Millionaire.”
The speaker realized that everything in her life was poverty at that point. Her perception of herself and her happiness changed.
Stanzas Three and Four
Of Mines, I little know, myself —
But just the names, of Gems —
The Colors of the Commonest —
And scarce of Diadems —
So much, that did I meet the Queen —
Her Glory I should know —
But this, must be a different Wealth —
To miss it — beggars so —
She knew nothing, she says, of mining for precious gemstones. All she knows are the “names of Gems” that are considered common and enough to recognize when a gemstone is rare, belonging in a Diadem, or jeweled crown for a queen.
She knows “So much, that” if she did “meet the Queen,” she’d know “Her Glory.” But she knows that this kind of wealth is different. Sue experiences the world differently. The speaker likes being around Sue because as soon as they are separated, she’s is made poorer.
Stanzas Five and Six
I’m sure ’tis India — all Day —
To those who look on You —
Without a stint — without a blame,
Might I — but be the Jew —
I’m sure it is Golconda —
Beyond my power to deem —
To have a smile for Mine — each Day,
How better, than a Gem!
In the fifth stanza of ‘Your Riches—taught me—Poverty,’ the speaker says that when she’s with Sue, it’s “India—all Day.” here, India is a metaphor for exotic goods, gemstones, and spices. If it were up to the speaker, the poet says, she’d keep Sue around her all the time. Dickinson taps into a 19th-century stereotype about Jewish people, suggesting that they hoard wealth.
“To have a smile” of Sue’s for herself, the speaker adds, could be like “Golconda.” Golconda is a reference to a legendary gemstone mine, where the Hope Diamond was found.
Stanzas Seven and Eight
At least, it solaces to know
That there exists — a Gold —
Altho’ I prove it, just in time
Its distance — to behold —
Its far — far Treasure to surmise —
And estimate the Pearl —
That slipped my simple fingers through —
While just a Girl at School.
In the seventh stanza of ‘Your Riches—taught me—Poverty,’ the poet says that “At least” she knows that Sue exists, and the world Sue’s from exists. The knowledge sustains her even if she can’t be with Sue, or in her world, anymore. She can watch Sue from afar and pretend that she, too, is part of that life. She refers to Sue in the last lines of the poem as “a Girl at School” who slipped through her fingers. The syntax is jumbled in these last lines, but it’s moments like these that make Dickinson’s work interesting and pleasurable to read.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Your Riches—taught me—Poverty’ should also consider reading some of Emily Dickinson’s other poems. For instance, ‘Hope is the thing with feathers,’ ‘A Coffin is a Small Domain,’ and ‘I’m Nobody! Who are you?’ The latter reflects Dickinson’s disdain for publicity and fame while at the same time professing a longing for companionship. ‘A Coffin is a Small Domain’ is a lesser-known poem in which the speaker describes death, a common theme in Dickinson’s work. In ‘Hope is the thing with feathers,’ one of Dickinson’s most famous poems, she compares hope to a bird.