To a Millionaire was written by Arthur Rex Dugard ‘Rex’ Fairburn, a poet from New Zealand. He was born in Auckland in 1904 and died in Auckland in 1953. Fairburn’s life was short but full of events. As a youngster he loved to travel and explore. He worked in various jobs. For a short sting he moved to England and there he met his wife Jocelyn. Back in Auckland he took up various jobs including teaching in English and later in History and Theory of Art. He wrote a couple of novels and many poems. He regularly wrote for various magazines and newspaper and college journals. He spoke against conventional ideas and his reputation deteriorated due to his bold retorts. He was considered as the most influential poet and independent thinker of the 1930s,40s,50s in New Zealand.
The poem ‘To a Millionaire’ enshrines the feelings of the common people against a millionaire who suffer because of his suppression and angry at his hypocrisy. The millionaire is addressed as ‘Lord of the world” not because he is one but he behaves like one. People are asking his to taken his mask and gloves and show his true self for inside the gloves one can see the blood stained hands. They have identified the killer and they do not need the police report on it. The allegations on the millionaire are many. The people say that in private coral island there are many skulls indicating many have been killed by the millionaire.
The millionaire’s dirty games are not known because all the servants are tight-lipped. But one day the mob will spit on those polished floors and he will be forgotten like a bad weather and he too will food for the worms. His estates will disappear after the notary implements the will. The invisible violence of time will definitely bring his downfall. A diver died groping for his wife’s pearl, in the sea. The millionaire has completely forgotten about this diver. His wife is walking around with diamonds which shine like a water droplet on a plastic flower or like the sweat of the factory girls.
The curtains in the rooms are woven of blood and the whole house has a sweet fragrance smell of death. There are bones under the carpet and the people say once the doom starts they will all be pulled out. All the graves are covered with grass and all accidents are alleged to be the work of Providence when in reality it is the work of the millionaire. He advises restraints and asks men to resort to prayer. When people closed their eyes, cheating as easier.The millionaire’s world is a dark glass which is filled with the images of his disruption and corruption. The mirrors when investigated will only reflect nothingness – hollowness of his life and all that he strived for.
The poem ‘To a Millionaire’ reflects the thoughts of a common man against a millionaire. The poet tells about the repression by the millionaire but in many lines especially towards the end his end is forecasted. It also tells that all the corrupt and cruel efforts put by the millionaire will be wasted as his reputation is what will remain and everything else will go. Fairburn’s life itself was something like this. He had many critics while he lived and he was more famous for the wrong things even after his death. He was unpopular because he would fire out his thoughts without mincing his words and this earned him a lot of enemies. After many years after Fairburn’s death, people began to bring out the better side of him. This poem was in some ways a prediction of his own life; the only difference was that the millionaire was really bad while Fairburn was not so.
Structure and Poetic Devices
The poem is a ballad as it narrates the story of a corrupt and cruel millionaire. There are 10 stanzas each a quartet .The second line and the fourth line rhyme. In most of the stanzas the third line is has the longest meter. The poem opens with satire; the millionaire is called ‘Lord of our world’. The satire tone slowly shifts to that of a threat. The people predict that all the murders and other cruel deeds will show up the minute the doom starts and then it will be one big fall.
The use of the adjectives ‘velvet masks’, ‘gentle glove’ and ‘opulent curtains’ is more than what one meets the eye. The adjectives do convey the abundance of the millionaire – velvet, gentle and opulent. The nouns used are ones that cover which personify the character of the millionaire. He covers up all his deeds. The nouns are masks, gloves and curtains.
Imagery of the cheapness of the millionaire’s action is brought out in the lines
Her diamonds shine like water sprinkled on bought
flowers, or the sweat of factory girls.
The plastic flowers that have droplets on them have an unnatural look. The life of the millionaire is as plastic and unnatural as those droplets. The next imagery is the sweat of the factory girls. The millionaire had crushed and oppressed the working class to make his money. This is indicated with the imagery of ‘sweat’.
There is foreshadowing as there are enough warning to the millionaire that even at the crack of the doom all the skeletons in the cupboard would be exposed and he would be laid to rest a poor man. A subtle but powerful way to convey this is through the line
invisible violence do you ill
Time is a leveler par excellence and Fairburn has used this symbol to stress this fact. He calls the leveling experience as ‘invisible violence’. There is violence with the passing of time but it is truly invisible and before long we are demolished. With very few words the thought is conveyed with a punch. The use of unpacific is akin to hyperbole.
“To a Millionaire” is a sharp attack on the millionaire who stoops to any level to meet his needs. He is a hypocrite asking people to pray while he indulges in all the satanic deeds.