Hilaire Belloc’s ‘Fatigue‘ is a tightly condensed and humorous poem that dismisses emotional pleasures in favor of the pursuit of wealth. The poem’s brevity is striking, and it can be read both literally or as a work of satire.
Fatigue Hilaire BellocI'm tired of Love: I'm still more tired of Rhyme.But Money gives me pleasure all the time.
‘Fatigue‘ subverts the readers’ expectations of poetry by admitting the pursuit of material wealth outweighs artistic achievement.
Written over just two lines, the poem’s message is expressed directly and extremely concisely. The first line declares that the delights of love and poetry have faded for the narrator, echoing the theme of exhaustion suggested by the title. The second line states that, unlike these earlier sources of pleasure, money is still a reliable source of delight. The poem thereby subverts the traditional wisdom that money cannot buy happiness.
Born in France in 1870, Belloc went on to have quite an extraordinary and varied career, during which he worked as a soldier, sailor, and Member of Parliament, as well as achieving renown for his work as a poet, satirist, and historian.
Belloc’s career encompassed both intellectual, academically high-brow fields of literature and more irreverent work, particularly his collection of poems, Cautionary Tales for Children. It can therefore be difficult to ascertain how sincere some of his specific poems were intended to be, although ‘Fatigue‘ is generally considered to be tongue in cheek.
I’m tired of Love: I’m still more tired of Rhyme.
But Money gives me pleasure all the time.
The poem begins with the hyperbolic and virtually paradoxical claim that the narrator is “tired of love.” This notion is bizarre as one does not imagine that love is something a person can grow tired of. Furthermore, the capitalization of the word “love,” as well as subsequent words, suggests it is a proper noun and, therefore, an active presence in the narrator’s life rather than the abstract concept that it is normally considered to be. Finally, the caesura which follows this assertion forces the reader to pause and contemplate the gravity of the claim that the narrator has made.
The poet’s use of repetition in the opening line reinforces and embodies the notion of fatigue, as the words themselves appear devoid of creativity and originality. The second claim can be interpreted as dramatic irony, given the fact the writer expresses their disdain for poetry while writing a poem. This meta-textual approach is part of what imbues the poem with humor and provides evidence that Belloc intended the poem to be viewed as satire rather than a genuine expression of his priorities.
The second line, and its focus on money, juxtaposes with the first, which is more concerned with creative and more abstract sources of pleasure. The apparent rejection of these in favor of money would be a surprising and, perhaps, unsettling view for a poet to hold if, of course, Belloc meant what the poem claims.
More likely, however, is that the hyperbolic claim that “money gives me pleasure all the time” was intended to be satirical and potentially mock those who actually held this view. One might argue that if something provides pleasure constantly, one might cease to notice it, especially when compared to other things that provide more sporadic yet pleasantly unexpected forms of happiness.
Finally, Belloc’s Catholic faith was well known, and the poem’s second line is clearly incongruous with his religious beliefs, which celebrate the poor above those who accumulate great wealth. This is more evidence to suggest that Belloc’s poem was meant to be tongue-in-cheek.
The poem is an epigram, which is a type of short, witty poem that is often satirical. It is a rhyming couplet, which adds a degree of irony as the first line claims the narrator is tired of rhyme. Finally, the brevity of the poem could reflect the exhaustion the narrator claims to feel, as it suggests they couldn’t write anymore.
In spite of its ominous title, the poem’s tone is relatively lighthearted and satirical, subverting the readers’ expectations of poets for comedic effect.
The words ‘love,’ ‘rhyme,’ and ‘money’ are all capitalized in the poem, which means they are used as proper nouns. This suggests that the terms refer to living, perhaps even conscious qualities in the poem, which affords them a degree of agency one would not normally expect them to have.
Aside from being an epigram, which is often very short, the poem is concerned with the notion of fatigue, and so its short length suggests the poet was too tired to continue. More broadly, the poem is in keeping with Belloc’s desire for concise expression. He held the popular nursery rhyme, Mary Had a Little Lamb, up as an example of the concise style he wished to emulate.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Fatigue‘ might want to explore other Hilaire Belloc poems. For example:
- ‘George‘ – A moral poem that explores how small acts can have enormous consequences.
- ‘The Hippopotamus‘ – Another short, humorous poem, this time describing the famous titular animal.
Some other poems that may be of interest include:
- ‘Money‘ by Robert Frost – Another epigram concerned with money and attitudes towards it.
- ‘Weariness‘ by Eva Gore-Booth – This poem takes a more sincere approach when exploring the notion of fatigue.