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With spectacles upon his nose,
He shuffles up and down;
Of antique fashion are his clothes,
His napless hat is brown.
A mighty watch, of silver wrought,
Keeps time in sun or rain
To the dull ticking of the thought
Within his dusty brain.
To see him at the bookstall stand
And bargain for the prize,
With the odd sixpence in his hand
And greed in his gray eyes!
Then, conquering, grasp the book half blind,
And take the homeward track,
For fear the man should change his mind,
And want the bargain back!
The waves of life about him beat,
He scarcely lifts his gaze,
He hears within the crowded street
The wash of ancient days.
If ever his short-sighted eyes
Look forward, he can see
Vistas of dusty Libraries
But think not as he walks along
His brain is dead and cold;
His soul is thinking in the tongue
Which Plato spake of old;
And while some grinning cabman sees
His quaint shape with a jeer,
He smiles, — for Aristophanes
Is joking in his ear.
Around him stretch Athenian walks,
And strange shapes under trees;
He pauses in a dream and talks
Great speech, with Socrates.
Then, as the fancy fails — still mesh'd
In thoughts that go and come —
Feels in his pouch, and is refresh'd
At touch of some old tome.
The mighty world of humankind
Is as a shadow dim,
He walks through life like one half blind,
And all looks dark to him;
But put his nose to leaves antique,
And hold before his sight
Some press'd and withered flowers of Greek,
And all is life and light.
A blessing on his hair so gray,
And coat of dingy brown!
May bargains bless him every day,
As he goes up and down;
Long may the bookstall-keeper's face,
In dull times, smile again,
To see him round with shuffling pace
The corner of the lane!
A good old Ragpicker is he,
Who, following morn and eve
The quick feet of Humanity,
Searches the dust they leave.
He pokes the dust, he sifts with care,
He searches close and deep;
Proud to discover, here and there,
A treasure in the heap!
(From London Poems, 1866-70)
Last modified 26 September 2002