If more people knew that poetry could make you rich, perhaps there would be fewer bankers and oil tycoons trying to destroy the planet. Yet this is a secret not often spoken: that you really can make your fortune through poetry (well, specifically, one poem).
It all begins with a treasure chest – as so many good stories do – and an ageing octogenarian with a lust for adventure, and literature.
In the late 1980s, Forrest Fenn, a billionaire art dealer, was told he had terminal cancer. Deciding to go out with a bang, he sold his art gallery, many of his possessions, and purchased a suite of ancient artefacts, gold coins, and a Romanesque treasure chest dating from 1150 AD. Within this box he placed his treasure, and prepared to walk into the desert, chest in hand, and end it all with a bottle of whiskey and 52 sleeping pills.
But his cancer never returned. In 2010, Fenn decided to go ahead and hide his treasure anyway (just this time without his accompanying dead body).
He struck out into the wilderness and hid the chest, then wrote a cryptic poem that – if deciphered – would act as a map that would lead one intrepid poetry-loving explorer directly to their fortune.
Eight years later – the chest remains resolutely hidden and unfound. While Fenn claims one hunter came within 200 feet of the treasure, the poem has not been fully deciphered.
If you fancy laying your hand upon an estimated £1.9 million treasure made up of gold coins, pre-Columbian gold animal figures, Chinese jade carvings, a 17th-century Spanish ring with an inset emerald, rubies, sapphires and diamonds, all you have to do is crack the poem, which he included in his memoir ‘The Thrill of the Chase’.
To save you time, we’ve copied the poem out for you here below in its entirety:
As I have gone alone in there
And with my treasures bold,
I can keep my secret where,
And hint of riches new and old.
Begin it where warm waters halt
And take it in the canyon down,
Not far, but too far to walk.
Put in below the home of Brown.
From there it’s no place for the meek,
The end is ever drawing nigh;
There’ll be no paddle up your creek,
Just heavy loads and water high.
If you’ve been wise and found the blaze,
Look quickly down, your quest to cease,
But tarry scant with marvel gaze,
Just take the chest and go in peace.
So why is it that I must go
And leave my trove for all to seek?
The answers I already know,
I’ve done it tired, and now I’m weak.
So hear me all and listen good,
Your effort will be worth the cold.
If you are brave and in the wood
I give you title to the gold.
Seems easy, right? Well, before you embark on your epic adventure, be warned: six treasure hunters have already died in their respective quests for Fenn’s chest. Some have drowned, others have fallen down cliff faces and sheer drops.
When pushed on this matter, Fenn insists the treasure is not in a dangerous or inaccessible place – and suggests people seek the treasure in the warmer months, when the terrain is less hazardous.
Some treasure hunters have branded the entire exercise “nonsense” or “a hoax” – yet Fenn remains unmoved. He claims the chest is in the Rocky Mountains, north of Santa Fe and around 5,000 ft above sea level. Of people who have gone missing or headed out into the desert, he says they have simply misinterpreted his poem:
“If your solve is in the desert. Get a new solve.”
What is perhaps most interesting about this entire endeavor is not that thousands of people worldwide have struck out in the hope of finding buried treasure – but that even more have attempted to decipher and engage with a simple 24-line poem.
Over the years, Fenn’s poem has inspired Talmudic interpretation. One Searcher on the website Fenn Clues posits that, based on the first line, “We are almost surely looking for a location that satisfies ‘alone.’ So, a Solitary Geyser or a Lone Indian Peak would fit the bill.” Other determinations are more arcane. Some ‘searchers’ – as those who have set out to find the treasure refer to themselves – insist the “blaze” in the 13th line refers to a turtle-shaped tattoo on the chest of a character in Marvel’s illustrated version of the 1826 novel The Last of the Mohicans.
If only Alfred Lord Tennyson and Sylvia Plath had hidden more chests of ancient treasure – perhaps every English teacher’s job would have been made that much easier.