The Bookworm


by Robert Buchanan


(from Comic Poets of the Nineteenth Century,

George Rutledge and Sons, London)



With spectacles upon his nose,

     He shuffles up and down;

Of antique fashion are his clothes,

     His hapless 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 counquering, 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

     Prolonged eternally.


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 meshed

     In thoughts that go and come,

Feels in his pouch, and is refreshed,

     At touch of some old tome.


The mighty world of human kind

     Is as a shadow dim,

He walks thro’ life like one half blind,

     And all looks dark to him;

But put his nose to leaves antique,

     And hold before his sight

Some pressed 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 rag-picker 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.