Robert Browning

SO, friend, your shop was all your house!
    Its front, astonishing the street,
Invited view from man and mouse
    To what diversity of treat
    Behind its glass—the single sheet!

What gimcracks, genuine Japanese:
    Gape-jaw and goggle-eye, the frog;
Dragons, owls, monkeys, beetles, geese;
    Some crush-nosed human-hearted dog:
    Queer names, too, such a catalogue!

I thought “And he who owns the wealth
    Which blocks the window’s vastitude,
—Ah, could I peep at him by stealth
    Behind his ware, pass shop, intrude
    On house itself, what scenes were viewed!

“If wide and showy thus the shop,
    What must the habitation prove?
The true house with no name a-top—
    The mansion, distant one remove,
    Once get him off his traffic-groove!

“Pictures he likes, or books perhaps;
    And as for buying most and best,
Commend me to these city chaps!
    Or else he’s social, takes his rest
    On Sundays, with a Lord for guest.

“Some suburb-palace, parked about
    And gated grandly, built last year:
The four-mile walk to keep off gout;
    Or big seat sold by bankrupt peer:
    But then he takes the rail, that’s clear.

“Or, stop! I wager, taste selects
    Some out-o’-the-way, some all-unknown
Retreat: the neighborhood suspects
    Little that he who rambles lone
    Makes Rothschild tremble on his throne!”

Nowise! Nor Mayfair residence
    Fit to receive and entertain,—
Nor Hampstead villa’s kind defence
    From noise and crowd, from dust and drain,—
    Nor country-box was soul’s domain!

Nowise! At back of all that spread
    Of merchandise, woe’s me, I find
A hole i’ the wall where, heels by head,
    The owner couched, his ware behind,
    —In cupboard suited to his mind.

For why? He saw no use of life
    But, while he drove a roaring trade,
To chuckle “Customers are rife!”
    To chafe “So much hard cash outlaid,
    Yet zero in my profits made!

“This novelty costs pains, but—takes?
    Cumbers my counter! Stock no more!
This article, no such great shakes,
    Fizzes like wildfire? Underscore
    The cheap thing—thousands to the fore!’

’Twas lodging best to live most nigh
    (Cramp, coffinlike as crib might be)
Receipt of Custom; ear and eye
    Wanted no outworld: “Hear and see
    The bustle in the shop!” quoth he.

My fancy of a merchant-prince
    Was different. Through his wares we groped
Our darkling way to—not to mince
    The matter—no black den where moped
    The master if we interloped!

Shop was shop only: household-stuff?
    What did he want with comforts there?
“Walls, ceiling, floor, stay blank and rough,
    So goods on sale show rich and rare!
    ‘Sell and scud home,’ be shop’s affair!”

What might he deal in? Gems, suppose!
    Since somehow business must be done
At cost of trouble,—see, he throws
    You choice of jewels, every one,
    Good, better, best, star, moon, and sun!

Which lies within your power of purse?
    This ruby that would tip aright
Solomon’s sceptre? Oh, your nurse
    Wants simply coral, the delight
    Of teething baby,—stuff to bite!

Howe’er your choice fell, straight you took
    Your purchase, prompt your money rang
On counter,—scarce the man forsook
    His study of the “Times,” just swang
    Till-ward his hand that stopped the clang,—

Then off made buyer with a prize,
    Then seller to his “Times” returned;
And so did day wear, wear, till eyes
    Brightened apace, for rest was earned:
    He locked door long ere candle burned.

And whither went he? Ask himself,
    Not me! To change of scene, I think.
Once sold the ware and pursed the pelf,
    Chaffer was scarce his meat and drink,
    Nor all his music—money-chink.

Because a man has shop to mind
    In time and place, since flesh must live,
Needs spirit lack all life behind,
    All stray thoughts, fancies fugitive,
    All loves except what trade can give?

I want to know a butcher paints,
    A baker rhymes for his pursuit,
Candlestick-maker much acquaints
    His soul with song, or, haply mute,
    Blows out his brains upon the flute!

But—shop each day and all day long!
    Friend, your good angel slept, your star
Suffered eclipse, fate did you wrong!
    From where these sorts of treasures are,
    There should our hearts be—Christ, how far!

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