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«Speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of all who are vulnerable. Speak out in order to judge with righteousness and to defend the needy and the poor» ~ Proverbs 31:8-10 (CEB)

Poverty is a state in which an individual, group, or population lack essential elements of life within their societies. This usually has the connotation of a lack of basic survival items like food, clothing, shelter, and health care, or the financial means to obtain these, but can also mean having less tangible problems like social exclusion, dependency, and the ability to participate in society. Its exact meaning varies considerably with context and the social environments involved.


Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless?
You think wrong!. I have as much soul as you, and full as much heart!
No, madam, 'tis not so well that I am poor, though many of the rich are damned. ~ William Shakespeare
Poverty is no sin. ~ George Herbert
To be broke is not a disgrace, it is only a catastrophe. ~ Rex Stout
  • The international community . . . allows nearly 3 billion people—almost half of all humanity—to subsist on $2 or less a day in a world of unprecedented wealth.
    • Kofi Annan, Awake! magazine May 22, 2002; Can Globalization Really Solve Our Problems?
  • One would have thought that it was even more necessary to limit population than property; and that the limit should be fixed by calculating the chances of mortality in the children, and of sterility in married persons. The neglect of this subject, which in existing states is so common, is a never-failing cause of poverty among the citizens; and poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.
    • Aristotle, Politics, Book II, Section VI (Translation by Benjamin Jowett).
  • In truth, poverty is an anomaly to rich people. It is very difficult to make out why people who want dinner do not ring the bell.
  • Come away; poverty's catching.
    • Aphra Behn (1640-1689), English dramatist, The Rover, Part 2. I. (1681).
  • Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!. I have as much soul as you, and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God's feet, equal — as we are!”
  • Dr. Warton complied with this proposal, to which (as his circumstances were narrow) it must be-hoped that his poverty consented rather than his will.
    • Thomas Campbell, "Joseph Warton", Specimens of the British poets : with biographical and critical notices, and an essay on English poetry (1819), p. 320.
  • Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.
    • Frederick Douglass, Speech on the twenty-fourth anniversary of Emancipation in the District of Columbia, Washington, D.C. (April 1886).
  • There is a solitude in poverty, but a solitude which restores to each thing its value.
    • Albert Camus (1913-1960), French philosopher. 'Between Yes and No', World Review magazine, March 1950.
  • La pauvreté met le crime au rabais.
    • Poverty puts crime at a discount.
    • Nicolas Chamfort, Maximes et Pensées (published 1795); CCCXII.
    • Alternately translated as: "Poverty sets a reduced price on crime"; in The Viking Book of Aphorisms (1962).
  • For he will rescue the poor who cry for help,
Also the lowly one and whoever has no helper.
He will have pity on the lowly and the poor,
And the lives of the poor he will save.
  • There's no scandal like rags, nor any crime so shameful as poverty.
  • It is not true (what some people imagine) "that the common law of England made no provision for the poor": the Mirror shews the contrary. How, indeed, it was done does not appear.
    • Foster, J., Rex v. Loxdale (1758), 1 Burr. Part IV. 450; reported in James William Norton-Kyshe, Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904), p. 198.
  • Holy poverty … is the foundation and guardian of all virtues. ... The kingdom of heaven truly belongs to those who, of their own will, a spiritual intention, and a desire for eternal goods, possess nothing of this earth.
  • When he [Jesus] chose some of the indispensable witnesses to his holy preaching and to his glorious manner of living for the salvation of the human race, he surely did not choose rich merchants but poor fishermen, to show by such esteem that you [Poverty] were to be loved by all. Finally, to reveal to everyone your goodness, magnificence, dignity and strength, how you surpass all other virtues, how nothing can be a virtue without you.
  • If the plaintiff could have gone away from the dangerous place without incurring the risk of losing his means of livelihood, the case might have been different; but he was obliged to be there; his poverty, not his will, consented to incur the danger.
    • Henry Hawkins, Thrussell v. Handyside, L.R. 20 Q.B.D. 359, 364 (1888).
  • Who sees not, that whosoever ministers to the poor, ministers to God? as it appears in that solemn sentence of the last day, Inasmuch as you did feed, clothe, lodge the poor, you did it unto me.
    • Sir Henry Hobart, 1st Baronet, C.J., Pits v. James (1614), Lord Hobart's Rep. 125; reported in James William Norton-Kyshe, Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904), p. 198.
  • The poor ye have always with you.
    • Jesus, the Bible, Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7, and John 12:8.
  • Speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of all who are vulnerable.
    Speak out in order to judge with righteousness and to defend the needy and the poor.
  • For the first time in our history it is possible to conquer poverty.
  • When two-thirds of the world's population still go to bed hungry every night, when hundreds of millions need shoes and Warmth, medicines and nourishment to prevent them from dying years before their time, the dereliction of science to reducing the greater part of the earth's surface to radio-active shambles is worse than a crime. It is a sin against the light.
  • This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join with me in that effort.
    • Lyndon B. Johnson, State of the Union address, delivered to a joint session of Congress (January 8, 1964); in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963–64, book 1, p. 114.
  • Nil habet infelix paupertas durius in se
    Quam quod ridiculos homines facit.

    Poverty is bitter, but it has no harder pang than that it makes men ridiculous.
  • Though in a state of society some must have greater luxuries and comforts than others, yet all should have the necessaries of life; and if the poor cannot exist, in vain may the rich look for happiness or prosperity. The legislature is never so well employed as when they look to the interests of those who are at a distance from them in the ranks of society. It is their duty to do so: religion calls for it; humanity calls for it; and if there are hearts who are not awake to either of those feelings, their own interests would dictate it.
    • Lord Kenyon, Rex v. Rusby (1800), Peake's N. P. Cases 192; reported in James William Norton-Kyshe, Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904), p. 198-199.
  • It is easy enough to tell the poor to accept their poverty as God's will when you yourself have warm clothes and plenty of food and medical care and a roof over your head and no worry about the rent. But if you want them to believe you—try to share some of their poverty and see if you can accept it as God's will yourself!
    • Thomas Merton, Seeds of Contemplation (1949), chapter 14, p. 107.
  • Real poverty comes only to those who indulge in food and drink. They have made themselves poor.
  • Poverty is never dishonourable in itself, but only when it is a mark of sloth, intemperance, extravagance, or thoughtlessness. When, on the other hand, it is the handmaid of a sober, industrious, righteous, and brave man, who devotes all his powers to the service of the people, it is the sign of a lofty spirit that harbours no mean thoughts
    • Plutarch, Comparison of Aristides and Cato.
  • The greatest of evils and the worst of crimes is poverty.
  • It is still her use
    To let the wretched man outlive his wealth,
    To view with hollow eye and wrinkled brow
    An age of poverty.
  • Poor and content is rich and rich enough,
    But riches fineless is as poor as winter
    To him that ever fears he shall be poor.
  • The world affords no law to make thee rich;
    Then be not poor, but break it, and take this.
  • Poverty is no discrace to a man, but it is confoundedly inconvenient.
    • Reverand Samuel F. Smith (1808-1895), American Baptist minister and author. His Wit and Wisdom
    • Reverand Sydney Smith (1771 - 1845), British clergyman, essayist and wit.
  • The rich is the one that rules over those of little means, and the borrower is servant to the man doing the lending.
  • Whose plenty made him pore.
    • Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene (1589-96), Book I, Canto IV, Stanza 29.
  • His rawbone cheekes, through penurie and pine,
    Were shronke into his jawes, as he did never dyne.
    • Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene (1589-96), Book I, Canto IX, Stanza 35.
  • As for the virtuous poor, one can pity them of course, but one cannot possibly admire them.
    • Oscar Wilde (1856-1900). 'The Soul of Man Under Socialism', originally published in the Fortnightly Review magazine, February 1891.
  • But let us realize what sort of rich people. Here comes heaven knows who across our path, wrapped in rags, and he has been jumping for joy and laughing on hearing it said that the rich man can’t enter the kingdom of heaven; and he’s been saying, “I, though, will enter; that’s what theses rags will earn me; those who treat s badly and insult us, those who bear down hard upon us won’t enter; no, that sort certainly won’t enter. But just a minute, Mr. Poor Man; consider whether you can, in fact, enter. What if you’re poor, and also happen to be greedy? What if you’re sunk in destitution, and at the same time on fire with avarice? So if that’s what you’re like, whoever you are that are poor, it’s not because you haven’t wanted to be rich, but because you haven’t been able to. So God doesn’t inspect your means, but he observes your will. So if that’s what you’re like, leading a bad life, of bad morals, a blasphemer, an adulterer, a drunkard, proud, cross yourself off the list of God’s poor; you won’t be among those of whom it is said, Blessed are the poor in spirit, since theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Mt 5:3).
    • Sermon 346A:6 (c. 399 A.D.) "On the Word of God as Leader of the Christians on Their Pilgrimage," Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century, III/10, Sermons, 341-400, New City Press, Edmund Hill O.P., trans., (1995), ISBN 1565480554 ISBN 9781565480285 , p. 74.[3]
  • In the Bible, poverty is not in itself something to be applauded. It is in fact a wretched condition. Rich Christians romanticize it, misinterpreting the text "blessed are the poor in spirit," as when they claim, "I wish I were poor. Their lives are so uncomplicated, more simple. The poor don't have the worries of the rich." Poverty is not an ideal state. On the contrary, it is regarded as an evil condition in the Bible, because the poor are victims of injustice and oppression. Poverty is seen not so much as an absence of possessions, but as a condition of powerlessness. So poverty is not an ideal but an evil.
  • To listen to someone is to put oneself in his place while he is speaking. To put oneself in the place of someone whose soul is corroded by affliction, or in near danger of it, is to annihilate oneself. It is more difficult than suicide would be for a happy child. Therefore the afflicted are not listened to. They are like someone whose tongue has been cut out and who occasionally forgets the fact. When they move their lips no ear perceives any sound. And they themselves soon sink into impotence in the use of language, because of the certainty of not being heard.

    That is why there is no hope for the vagrant as he stands before the magistrate. Even if, through his stammerings, he should utter a cry to pierce the soul, neither the magistrate nor the public will hear it. His cry is mute. And the afflicted are nearly always equally deaf to one another; and each of them, constrained by the general indifference, strives by means of self-delusion or forgetfulness to become deaf to his own self.

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations[edit]

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 620-22.
  • Paupertas omnium artium repertrix.
    • Poverty is the discoverer of all the arts.
    • Apollonius, De Magia, p. 285. 35.
  • Leave the poor
    Some time for self-improvement. Let them not
    Be forced to grind the bones out of their arms
    For bread, but have some space to think and feel
    Like moral and immortal creatures.
  • L'or même à la laideur donne un teint de beauté:
    Mais tout devient affreux avec la pauvreté.
    • Gold gives an appearance of beauty even to ugliness: but with poverty everything becomes frightful.
    • Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux, Satires, VIII. 209.
  • Oh, the little more, and how much it is!
    And the little less, and what worlds away.
  • Needy knife-grinder! whither are ye going?
    Rough is the road, your wheel is out of order;
    Bleak blows the blast—your hat has got a hole in it.
    So have your breeches.
    • Canning, The Friend of Humanity and the Knife-Grinder.
  • Thank God for poverty
    That makes and keeps us free,
    And lets us go our unobtrusive way,
    Glad of the sun and rain,
    Upright, serene, humane,
    Contented with the fortune of a day.
  • Paupertatis onus patienter ferre memento.
    • Patiently bear the burden of poverty.
    • Dionysius Cato, Disticha, Lib. I, 21.
  • He is now fast rising from affluence to poverty.
  • The beggarly last doit.
    • William Cowper, The Task (1785), Book V. The Winter Morning Walk, line 316.
  • And plenty makes us poor.
  • Content with poverty, my soul I arm;
    And virtue, though in rags, will keep me warm.
  • Thou source of all my bliss and all my woe,
    That found'st me poor at first, and keep'st me so.
  • The nakedness of the indigent world may be clothed from the trimmings of the vain.
  • Chill penury repress'd their noble rage,
    And froze the genial current of the soul.
    • Thomas Gray, Elegy in a Country Churchyard, Stanza 13.
  • Yes, child of suffering, thou may'st well be sure
    He who ordained the Sabbath loves the poor!
  • O God! that bread should be so dear,
    And flesh and blood so cheap!
  • Stitch! stitch! stitch!
    In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
    And still with a voice of dolorous pitch,
    Would that its tone could reach the Rich,
    She sang this "Song of the Shirt!"
  • Magnas inter opes inops.
    • Penniless amid great plenty.
    • Horace, Carmina, Book III. 16. 28.
  • Pauper enim non est cui rerum suppetet usus.
    • He is not poor who has the use of necessary things.
    • Horace, Epistles, I. 12. 4.
  • Ibit eo quo vis qui zonam perdidit.
    • The man who has lost his purse will go wherever you wish.
    • Horace, Epistles, II. 2. 40.
  • Grind the faces of the poor.
    • Isaiah, III. 15.
  • The poor always ye have with you.
    • John, XII. 8.
  • Nil habet infelix paupertas durius in se
    Quam quod ridiculos homines facit.
    • Cheerless poverty has no harder trial than this, that it makes men the subject of ridicule.
    • Juvenal, Satires, III. V. 152.
  • Haud facile emergunt quorum virtutibus obstat
    Res angusta domi.
    • They do not easily rise whose abilities are repressed by poverty at home.
    • Juvenal, Satires, III. 164.
  • Hic vivimus ambitiosa
    Paupertate omnes.
    • Here we all live in ambitious poverty.
    • Juvenal, Satires, III. 182.
  • O Poverty, thy thousand ills combined
    Sink not so deep into the generous mind,
    As the contempt and laughter of mankind.
    • Juvenal, Satires, III, line 226. Gifford's translation.
  • Cantabit vacuus coram latrone viator.
    • The traveler without money will sing before the robber.
    • Juvenal, Satires, X. 22.
  • Paupertas fugitur, totoque arcessitur orbe.
  • If you are poor now, Æmilianus, you will always be poor. Riches are now given to none but the rich.
    • Martial, Epigrams (c. 80-104 AD), Book V, Epigram 8.
  • Non est paupertas, Nestor, habere nihil.
    • To have nothing is not poverty.
    • Martial, Epigrams (c. 80-104 AD), XI. 32. 8.
  • La pauvreté des biens est aysee à guerir; la pauvreté de l'âme, impossible.
    • The lack of wealth is easily repaired; but the poverty of the soul is irreparable.
    • Michel de Montaigne, Essays, III. 10.
  • Rattle his bones over the stones!
    He's only a pauper whom nobody owns!
  • Horrea formicæ tendunt ad inania nunquam
    Nullus ad amissas ibit amicus opes.
    • Ants do not bend their ways to empty barns, so no friend will visit the place of departed wealth.
    • Ovid, Tristium, I. 9. 9.
  • Inops, potentem dum vult imitari, perit.
    • The poor, trying to imitate the powerful, perish.
    • Phaedrus, Fables, I. 24. 1.
  • Paupertas … omnes artes perdocet.
    • Poverty is a thorough instructress in all the arts.
    • Plautus, Stichus, Act II. 1.
  • But to the world no bugbear is so great,
    As want of figure and a small estate.
  • Where are those troops of poor, that throng'd of yore
    The good old landlord's hospitable door?
  • So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man.
    • Proverbs, VI. 11.
  • The destruction of the poor is their poverty.
    • Proverbs. X. 15.
  • He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord.
    • Proverbs, XIX. 17.
  • Blessed is he that considereth the poor.
    • Psalms. XLI. 1.
  • Whene'er I walk the public ways,
    How many poor that lack ablution
    Do probe my heart with pensive gaze,
    And beg a trivial contribution.
  • Non qui parum habet, sed qui plus cupit, pauper est.
    • Not he who has little, but he who wishes for more, is poor.
    • Seneca the Younger, Epistolæ Ad Lucilium, II.
  • Nemo tam pauper vivit quam natus est.
  • The poor in Resurrection City have come to Washington to show that the poor in America are sick, dirty, disorganized, and powerless—and they are criticized daily for being sick, dirty, disorganized, and powerless.
    • Calvin Trillin, "U.S. Journal: Resurrection City", The New Yorker (June 15, 1968), p. 71.
  • Paupertas sanitatis mater.
    • Poverty is the mother of health.
    • Vincent of Beauvais, Speculum Historiale, Book X, Chapter LXXI. Herbert, Jacula Prudentum (1651).
  • Whene'er I take my walks abroad,
    How many poor I see!

Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers[edit]

Quotes reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895).

  • As no one can adventure nearer the throne of God by virtue of his rank, his wealth, or his talent, so no one is kept farther from that throne by his low condition, or by his poverty of wealth, of learning, or of intellect. The prince and the sage are not more welcome to heaven than the poor and ignorant.
  • Aspirations pure and high —
    Strength to do and to endure —
    Heir of all the Ages, I —
    Lo! I am no longer poor!
  • It is not poverty so much as pretense that harasses a ruined man.
  • There is not such a mighty difference as some men imagine between the poor and the rich; in pomp, show, and opinion, there is a great deal, but little as to the pleasures and satisfactions of life. They enjoy the same earth and air and heavens; hunger and thirst make the poor man's meat and drink as pleasant and relishing as all the varieties which cover the rich man's table; and the labor of a poor man is more healthful, and many times more pleasant, too, than the ease and softness of the rich.
  • The world's proverb is, "God help the poor, for the rich can help themselves;" but to our mind, it is just the rich who have most need of Heaven's help. Dives in scarlet is worse off than Lazarus in rags, unless Divine love shall uphold him.

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