by Michael Woods
The title of this poem reminds us of the power of money and is given further weight through its personification. Its voice tells us that it is 'the authentic language of suffering' reminding the reader that for all those who have enough money there are many who suffer from a lack of it or are exploited terribly by those who seek riches at their expense. The emphatic use of internal rhyme in 'My cold, gold eye / does not blink.' is a more a comment on the people who pursue wealth without thinking of the consequences for other people. Of course, there is also the metaphorical image of a gold coin being disc-shaped like an eye that does not blink.
We do not only hear the voice of money but also the voices of the many that crave it, save it or desperately need it. In a sense we hear these voices refracted through the common medium of the voice of money. The prostitute who asks a customer 'Mister, you want nice time?' highlights the power of economic necessity as well as the degrading things that people will do for money. The clearly foreign sounding formulation achieved through the omission of the indefinite article 'a' alerts the reader to the scenario of a rich man buying the sexual services of a poor woman in a foreign country. She has learned just enough English to sell her body. The pun in line 3, 'I say Screw You' refers both to slang sexual terminology and the unfeeling exploitative attitudes of those who only have profit as a motive. The reference to Midas reminds us that there is an irrational lust for money that becomes manifest in some people. Dyonisus granted King Midas a wish and the latter asked that all he touched should turn to gold. The wish was granted and had obvious, terrible consequences; these are explored elsewhere in these notes in connection with the poem 'Mrs Midas' from The World's Wife. The 'million tills' that 'sing' keep the reader in mind of the voice of money, while 'shining' and 'stink' make clear the superficial attraction of money and its negative associations. The word 'accumulate' in line 6 recalls the well known saying, 'You have to speculate to accumulate'. The voice of a man is foregrounded in the final line of stanza one. It is simultaneously indicative of someone who is anxious and powerful. He has the money to pay for the good time he is providing but he doubts the authenticity of the woman's affection who may well be taking advantage of him.
Stanza two deals with the all-pervasive aspect of money. There are three biblical allusions used reductively by Duffy to reinforce the arrogance of those who see wealth as being a licence to proceed as they wish in life. The first of these references is to Matthew 19:24 which asserts that 'it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven'. This emphasises the low intrinsic status attached to wealth by God and the manner in which it is so highly prized by humans. The voice of money claims to be able to do the impossible by contradicting the biblical statement: 'See me pass through the eye of a needle!' Even time can be conquered with enough money, it seems. Those who can afford a 'sleek facelift' are, of course, deluding themselves. 'Don't give me away' is ambiguous in that it draws attention to the warning that money should not be given away but also that its secret methods of operation should not be betrayed. The statement 'I am a jealous God' cites the words in Exodus 20:5 of the Old Testament who visits punishment on people who do not obey him. The 'one commandment' mentioned in line 11 ironically reduces the Ten Commandments to just one and this is associated with money. The well-known biblical dictum that someone cannot serve God and Mammon is drawn attention to here. The alliterative link between 'commandment' and 'calculator' intensifies Duffy's satirical apprehension of those who are unable to see beyond the material. The primacy of the American dollar is highlighted in the stammering, '$-sound.' and '$-stammering' which emphasises the oral performance highlighted in the title of the poem as well as using the typographical symbol for the all-powerful American dollar. The ability to travel 'faster than sound' is yet another expression of wealth. Clearly, Duffy is drawing attention to the manner in which the spiritual is being effaced by the material. The Bible commands human beings to love God with all their power and might but money does the same.
The satirical tone of the poem is pervasive and the final stanza makes clear that ultimate power is wielded by those with most money in the form of weaponry. Behind the programmatic affability of the well-known American courtesy phrase, 'Have a good day' is the sinister reality of 'big bombs, sighing in their thick lead sheaths OK.' The final 'OK' is used by Duffy to convey the way a voice can be a disguise. The way money talks is deceitful and self-seeking. The half-rhyme of 'party' with 'OK' draws attention to the sleight of word employed by those who put profit before principle.