The Pedlar

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The Pedlar
written by Walter de la Mare
Songs of Childhood (1902)




    There came a Pedlar to an evening house;
    Sweet Lettice, from her lattice looking down,
    Wondered what man he was, so curious
    His black hair dangled on his tattered gown:
    Then lifts he up his face, with glittering eyes, -
    'What will you buy, sweetheart? - Here's honeycomb,
    And mottled pippins, and sweet mulberry pies,
    Comfits and peaches, snowy cherry bloom,
    To keep in water for to make night sweet:
    All that you want, sweetheart, - come, taste and eat!'

    Ev'n with his sugared words, returned to her
    The clear remembrance of a gentle voice: -
    'And O! my child, should ever a flatterer
    Tap with his wares, and promise of all joys
    And vain sweet pleasures that on earth may be;
    Seal up your ears, sing some old happy song,
    Confuse his magic who is all mockery:
    His sweets are death.' Yet, still, how she doth long
    But just to taste, then shut the lattice tight,
    And hide her eyes from the delicious sight!

    'What must I pay?' she whispered. 'Pay!' says he,
    'Pedlar I am who through this wood do roam,
    One lock of hair is gold enough for me,
    For apple, peach, comfit, or honeycomb!'
    But from her bough a drowsy squirrel cried,
    'Trust him not, Lettice, trust, oh trust him not!'
    And many another woodland tongue beside
    Rose softly in the silence - 'Trust him not!'
    Then cried the Pedlar in a bitter voice,
    'What, in the thicket, is this idle noise?'

    A late, harsh blackbird smote him with her wings,
    As through the glade, dark in the dim, she flew;
    Yet still the Pedlar his old burden sings, -
    'What, pretty sweetheart, shall I show to you?
    Here's orange ribands, here's a string of pearls,
    Here's silk of buttercup and pansy glove,
    A pin of tortoiseshell for windy curls,
    A box of silver, scented sweet with clove:
    Come now,' he says, with dim and lifted face,
    'I pass not often such a lonely place.'

    'Pluck not a hair!' a hidden rabbit cried,
    'With but one hair he'll steal thy heart away,
    Then only sorrow shall thy lattice hide:
    Go in! all honest pedlars come by day.'
    There was dead silence in the drowsy wood;
    'Here's syrup for to lull sweet maids to sleep;
    And bells for dreams, and fairy wine and food
    All day thy heart in happiness to keep'; -
    And now she takes the scissors on her thumb, -
    'O, then, no more unto my lattice come!'

    O sad the sound of weeping in the wood!
    Now only night is where the Pedlar was;
    And bleak as frost upon a too-sweet bud
    His magic steals in darkness, O alas!
    Why all the summer doth sweet Lettice pine?
    And, ere the wheat is ripe, why lies her gold
    Hid 'neath fresh new-pluckt sprigs of eglantine?
    Why all the morning hath the cuckoo tolled,
    Sad to and fro in green and secret ways,
    With lonely bells the burden of his days?

    And, in the market-place, what man is this
    Who wears a loop of gold upon his breast,
    Stuck heartwise; and whose glassy flatteries
    Take all the townsfolk ere they go to rest
    Who come to buy and gossip? Doth his eye
    Remember a face lovely in a wood?
    O people! hasten, hasten, do not buy
    His woful wares; the bird of grief doth brood
    There where his heart should be; and far away
    Dew lies on grave-flowers this selfsame day!

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