What comes to mind when you hear the word “wealth”?
Wealth can be something you measure in dollars and cents. But you can also be wealthy in love, luck, or – in the case of a man we’re about to meet – smarts!
Our story is called “Poor Rich.” Versions of this tale originally come from the Eastern European country of Ukraine.
Voices in this episode include Kevin Corbett, Hrishikesh Hirway, Mike Smith, Dawn Ursula, Michael Cerveris, and Patrick Page.
Tony Award winner Michael Cerveris also fronts the band Loose Cattle. Their latest album, Heavy Lifting, is out now. Tony Award nominee Patrick Page is currently starring in Hadestown on Broadway. You grown-ups can check out both Michael and Patrick in the HBO drama series, The Gilded Age.
This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by supervising producer Amory Sivertson. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.
ADULTS! PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it! To access all the coloring pages for past episodes, click HERE. Our resident artist is Sabina Hahn and you can learn more about her HERE.
Things To Think About After Listening
What’s something that you’re “rich” in?
Is it hugs from family members? High-fives from friends?
Find a piece of paper and draw a picture of you and whatever it is that you’re “rich” in. Then share your picture with us! Ask a grown-up to snap a photo of you and your drawing, then email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Musical Spotlight: The Bandura
The bandura is similar to both a lute and harp, with a harpsichord-like sound that ranges in dynamics from gentle to very bold. Considered by many to be the national instrument of Ukraine, the bandura was traditionally played by musicians who traveled from village to village singing epic ballads and historical songs. The modern bandura has anywhere from 20 to 65 strings, and is tuned not like a guitar but rather like a piano. You can watch the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus rehearse for a big performance – and learn more about the instrument – in this exciting and educational video from Ideastream Public Media.
NARRATOR: Once upon a time, there was a land full of lush and fertile fields.
And a great deal of those lush and fertile fields were owned by a landlord. A very rich landlord who hired hundreds of local villagers to work his land.
The landlord was every bit as pompous as he was prosperous. His snobbery was deeper than his pockets – and given the fortune he owned, those pockets were very deep.
LANDLORD: Uch! Look at those villagers who work my land! With their shabby clothing and ramshackle houses! I should thank my lucky stars I wasn't born a mere peasant like they were!
NARRATOR: The landlord was so disdainful of the villagers that he never talked to them. He never even went near them! He stayed far, far away, doing whatever it is that wealthy landlords do all day.
Meanwhile, down in the lush and fertile fields, the villagers had no shortage of curiosity about their boss. Naturally, they had never met him, though some claimed to have caught a glimpse.
VILLAGER 1: I saw the landlord when I was carrying a sack of vegetables to his cellar! He was up in his mansion, sitting at a great big desk in the great big window of a great big study! I’m pretty sure he was counting a great big chest full of gold coins!
VILLAGER 2: Well, when I saw the landlord I was walking to the well to get a drink of water! I peeked through the garden wall and there he was! Lounging beneath a cherry tree and eating oysters and caviar off a silver platter!
VILLAGER 3: Well, when I saw the landlord, he was on the grounds behind his mansion! He had this snooty smile on his face as he galloped up and down the hills on a great big horse!
VILLAGER 1: A great big high horse, you mean! (beat) It’s unbelievable how snobbish that man is! Wanting nothing to do with us villagers! And so greedy, too!
NARRATOR: As the villagers chatted on, one of them did not join in the conversation. He was perhaps the cleverest villager of the bunch, but he was also the poorest. His name was Rich.
VILLAGER 1: You’ve been awfully quiet, Rich! Have you no landlord sightings to report?
NARRATOR: Rich shrugged his shoulders.
RICH: …I haven’t. Not yet, anyway.
VILLAGER 2: Well, he’s an elusive creature, that landlord is!
VILLAGER 3: Goodness knows he stays as far away from us “mere peasants” as possible!
VILLAGER 1: I'd hand over my prize cow to any villager who could finagle their way into the landlord's mansion and sit down with him for a meal!
VILLAGER 2: Oh yeah? Well I'd bet my goat that none of us can!
VILLAGER 3: I'd bet my donkey!
VILLAGER 1: And I'd add in my whole flock of chickens, 'cause it's never going to happen!
VILLAGER 1: / VILLAGER 2: / VILLAGER 3: (crosstalk) No, never! Impossible! The landlord can't bear the sight of us! He doesn't even want to come near us! Invite us to lunch??? No way!
NARRATOR: On the outside, Rich remained silent and still. But on the inside, his mind was whirling and spinning. At last, the clever fellow spoke up.
RICH: You know… I’ll bet I could do it.
VILLAGER 1: Come again!?
VILLAGER 2: Are you serious?!?
VILLAGER 3: Are you saying that you could actually…
RICH: …Actually finagle my way into the landlord’s mansion, and sit down with him for a meal? Yes! That’s precisely what I’m saying.
NARRATOR: The villagers were silent for a moment. And then…
VILLAGER 1: / VILLAGER 2: / VILLAGER 3: (laughter)
NARRATOR: …they doubled up with laughter.
VILLAGER 1: (laughing) Oh, come now, Rich!
VILLAGER 2: (laughing) You honestly think you could do lunch with the landlord?!
VILLAGER 3: (laughing) In his fancy-shmancy mansion?!?
VILLAGER 1: (laughing) The moment he sees you, he’ll order his servants to throw you out!
VILLAGER 2: (laughing) You’ll lose your job!
VILLAGER 3: (laughing) And lose your lunch! Literally!
RICH: Fine! Go ahead. Laugh! But you won’t be laughing once I waltz home with your cow. And your goat. And your donkey. And your flock of chickens! No, you won’t be laughing then!
VILLAGER 1: (sobering up) Hold on a minute.
VILLAGER 2: (sobering up) You’re being serious, aren’t you?
RICH: Serious as can be!
VILLAGER 3: But what if you don’t have lunch with the landlord…?
RICH: If I don’t have lunch with the landlord, then I will give you everything I own! It isn’t much, but it will be yours.
NARRATOR: The villagers exchanged a look, and a shrug, and then…?
VILLAGER 1: Alright, Rich!
VILLAGER 2: You have yourself a deal!
VILLAGER 3: But you’d better get your stuff ready.
VILLAGER 1: Because when the landlord’s servants throw you out…
VILLAGER 2: …all of it will be ours!
[theme music in]
NARRATOR: What do you think will happen next?
Will poor Rich find a clever way to dine with the landlord?
We’ll find out after a quick break.
[theme music out]
[theme music in]
NARRATOR: Welcome back to Circle Round. I’m Rebecca Sheir. Today our story is called “Poor Rich.”
[theme music out]
NARRATOR: Before the break, a clever but poor man named Rich took his fellow villagers up on a bet. If he could finagle his way into the landlord’s house… and have lunch with him… he would get their cow, goat, donkey and chickens. If he failed, he must give them everything he owned.
So the following day, an hour before lunchtime, Rich strolled over to the landlord’s palatial mansion and rang the bell.
[SOT: fancy doorbell, fancy door opens]
BUTLER: Yes? How may I - (stops short as he actually sees who’s at the door)
NARRATOR: The landlord’s butler stopped short when he saw the poor man standing before him, dressed in rags.
BUTLER: You must leave at once, sir! The landlord wants nothing to do with you villagers!
RICH: I understand that. But will you please tell the landlord that I have a very pressing question for him? (beat) It involves…
NARRATOR: Rich looked both ways, then leaned in closer.
BUTLER: Gold, you say…? Well goodness knows the landlord is very interested in gold! But why don’t you just tell me your question, and I’ll pass it on?
RICH: Oh, but this question is for the landlord’s ears alone. Trust me! He’ll want to hear this!
NARRATOR: The butler bit his lip and twiddled his fingers.
BUTLER: Ohhhh… alright. I’ll tell the landlord you have a pressing question about gold. Wait here!
NARRATOR: The butler scurried over to the landlord, who was sitting at a great big desk in the great big window of a great big study, counting a great big chest full of gold coins.
LANDLORD: [SOT: coins drop as he counts] 7,844… 7,845… 7,846…
BUTLER: My lord!
LANDLORD: [SOT: coins drop as he counts] 7,848…
BUTLER: My lord…?
LANDLORD: (continuing) …or was it 7,847…? Oh, look what you made me do! I lost count!
BUTLER: I’m sorry, my lord. But I come bearing a… message.
LANDLORD: I hope it’s an important message! You know how much I love counting my gold coins! Almost as much as I love lounging beneath a cherry tree and eating oysters and caviar off a silver platter! And galloping up and down the hills on my great big horse!
BUTLER: I know that, my lord. But this message… it involves a question. About… gold!
NARRATOR: At the mere mention of the word “gold,” the landlord’s ears perked up.
LANDLORD: Gold?!? Why didn’t you say so? Tell me more!
BUTLER: Well, my lord. A man is here with a pressing question about gold. He requests that you see him.
NARRATOR: The landlord’s mind was racing. A “pressing question”? About “gold”? Perhaps this man, whoever he was, knew some way the landlord could get more gold! And get even richer!
LANDLORD: Very well then. I’ll hear this fellow out. Send him in.
BUTLER: Yes, sir.
NARRATOR: When the butler ushered Rich into the great big study, the landlord wrinkled his nose.
LANDLORD: Oh! I didn’t realize you were a peasant! What pressing question about gold could a peasant possibly have for a wealthy man like me?
RICH: With all due respect, sir. My question is for your ears only. May I have the honor of speaking with you alone?
NARRATOR: The landlord felt a rush of annoyance. But he also felt a rush of curiosity. He waved his hand and dismissed the butler from the room.
Once Rich and the landlord were all alone, the clever villager took a deep breath.
RICH: Good sir, I truly appreciate you seeing me. Because for weeks now I’ve been wanting to ask you… (carefully as he continues his plan) What would you pay for a piece of gold as large as the largest pumpkin?
NARRATOR: The landlord blinked his eyes. Had he heard right? A piece of gold as large as the largest pumpkin? The way pumpkins grew in his lush and fertile fields, “the largest pumpkin” could be the size of a pony!
LANDLORD: Why do you ask me this question, peasant?
NARRATOR: Rich arched his eyebrows in a mysterious way.
RICH: (mysterious) Oh… I have my reasons.
NARRATOR: Now the landlord was more curious than ever! Had this bedraggled peasant stumbled upon some buried treasure? Did he actually have a piece of gold as large as the largest pumpkin? And was it for sale? If so, surely the landlord could talk him down to a reasonable price. After all, how clever could a mere peasant possibly be?
LANDLORD: Listen… friend. It isn’t every day that you find a piece of gold as large as the largest pumpkin! In fact it isn’t any day that you find such a thing! So why are you asking me this question?
NARRATOR: Rich slumped his shoulders.
RICH: This was what I feared would happen. You won’t give me an answer so I’ll have to go consult someone else. (beat) Now if you’ll excuse me, I must go home. My dear mother will have lunch waiting for me.
NARRATOR: Now the landlord was burning with curiosity. And with desire – desire for this mysterious, pumpkin-sized piece of gold! Surely he couldn't let this peasant go now!
LANDLORD: (over-the-top forced nice-ness) Friend! My dear, dear friend! Why hurry home for lunch when you can join me? Here at my mansion?
RICH: Join you…? For lunch…? Here at your mansion…?
LANDLORD: But of course! I’ll have my chefs prepare the finest dishes, and serve the finest wine! A guest like you deserves no less! Now come! Join me in my dining room!
NARRATOR: Before Rich knew it, he was sitting at one end of the landlord’s gleaming mahogany table in the dining room, feasting on the most delectable foods he had ever eaten in his entire life.
LANDLORD: Have some more lobster, my friend! And filet mignon! And please, drink 'til you’ve had your fill! Waiters? More wine, please! (changing his mind, going more fancy) No! Champagne!
NARRATOR: Rich ate and ate, and drank and drank. Once he was certain his belly couldn’t hold anything else, he sat back in his chair with a contented sigh.
RICH: This meal was exquisite, sir! So exquisite that I stuffed myself silly! And I couldn’t possibly finish everything on my plate. Mind if I take the rest home to Mother?
NARRATOR: The landlord smiled.
LANDLORD: I don’t mind at all! Waiters? One doggie bag, please!
NARRATOR: As a team of waist-coated waiters whisked away Rich’s plate and packed up his leftovers, the landlord leaned forward, put his elbows on the table, and clasped his hands together.
LANDLORD: So, my friend…. Now that our lunch is over… let’s talk about that piece of gold as large as the largest pumpkin! What do you say I send you home with a carriage, you bring the gold back to my mansion, and I tell you its price?
NARRATOR: Just then, the waiters returned with Rich’s leftovers. He gave a nod of thanks, then rose to his feet.
RICH: I’m afraid that won’t be possible, sir.
NARRATOR: Now the landlord rose to his feet. Or leaped to them, more like!
LANDLORD: Won’t be possible?!? Whatever do you mean? Why can’t you bring me the gold?
NARRATOR: Rich shrugged.
RICH: …because I don’t have it!
LANDLORD: You don’t have the gold?!?? Then why the dickens did you want to know its price?!?
NARRATOR: Rich shrugged again.
RICH: Because I was curious! I mean, like you said – it isn’t every day that you find a piece of gold as large as the largest pumpkin! In fact it isn’t any day that you find such a thing! But in the off-chance that I did – the very off-chance – I was curious what the price might be!
NARRATOR: The landlord froze. He clenched his fists. He tensed his jaw. Then he exploded in fury.
LANDLORD: (furious) Listen to me, you peasant! I order you to get out of my mansion now! I have neither the time nor the patience for a fool like you! So go!
NARRATOR: But Rich did not “go.”
RICH: A “fool” like me, you say? You “have neither time nor patience for a fool like” me? Oh, I believe I am anything but a “fool,” good sir. Would a “fool” have finagled his way into his boss’s mansion? Would a “fool” have gotten himself invited over for lunch, complete with the finest dishes and the finest wine?
And would a fool have just won a cow, a goat, a donkey, and a flock of chickens for succeeding in all of the above? I think not, good sir! (beat) I think not.
NARRATOR: Then, with his head held high, Rich waltzed out of the landlord’s mansion, a grin on his face, a doggie bag in his hand – as proof of his triumph to show the other villagers.
In the end, Rich never did get rich – not money-wise, anyway. But from that day forward his fellow villagers all knew that when it came to cunning and smarts, “Poor Rich” was the richest one of all.