Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. III. Sorrow and Consolation
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CONTENTS · BOOK CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume III. Sorrow and Consolation.  1904.
 
I. Disappointment in Love
The Dirty Old Man
William Allingham (1824–1889)
 
A Lay of Leadenhall

   [A singular man, named Nathaniel Bentley, for many years kept a large hardware-shop in Leadenhall Street, London. He was best know as Dirty Dick (Dick, for alliteration’s sake, probably), and his place of business as the Dirty Warehouse. He died about the year 1809. These verses accord with the accounts respecting himself and his house.]

IN a dirty old house lived a Dirty Old Man;
Soap, towels, or brushes were not in his plan.
For forty long years, as the neighbors declared,
His house never once had been cleaned or repaired.
 
’T was a scandal and shame to the business-like street,        5
One terrible blot in a ledger so neat:
The shop full of hardware, but black as a hearse,
And the rest of the mansion a thousand times worse.
 
Outside, the old plaster, all spatter and stain,
Looked spotty in sunshine and streaky in rain;        10
The window-sills sprouted with mildewy grass,
And the panes from being broken were known to be glass.
 
On the rickety sign-board no learning could spell
The merchant who sold, or the goods he ’d to sell;
But for house and for man a new title took growth,        15
Like a fungus,—the Dirt gave its name to them both.
 
Within, there were carpets and cushions of dust,
The wood was half rot, and the metal half rust,
Old curtains, half cobwebs, hung grimly aloof;
’T was a Spiders’ Elysium from cellar to roof.        20
 
There, king of the spiders, the Dirty Old Man
Lives busy and dirty as ever he can;
With dirt on his fingers and dirt on his face,
For the Dirty Old Man thinks the dirt no disgrace.
 
From his wig to his shoes, from his coat to his shirt,        25
His clothes are a proverb, a marvel of dirt;
The dirt is pervading, unfading, exceeding,—
Yet the Dirty Old Man has both learning and breeding.
 
Fine dames from their carriages, noble and fair,
Have entered his shop, less to buy than to stare;        30
And have afterwards said, though the dirt was so frightful,
The Dirty Man’s manners were truly delightful.
 
Upstairs might they venture, in dirt and in gloom,
To peep at the door of the wonderful room
Such stories are told about, none of them true!—        35
The keyhole itself has no mortal seen through.
 
That room,—forty years since, folk settled and decked it.
The luncheon ’s prepared, and the guests are expected,
The handsome young host he is gallant and gay,
For his love and her friends will be with him to-day.        40
 
With solid and dainty the table is drest,
The wine beams its brightest, the flowers bloom their best;
Yet the host need not smile, and no guests will appear,
For his sweetheart is dead, as he shortly shall hear.
 
Full forty years since turned the key in that door.        45
’T is a room deaf and dumb mid the city’s uproar.
The guests, for whose joyance that table was spread,
May now enter as ghosts, for they ’re every one dead.
 
Through a chink in the shutter dim lights come and go;
The seats are in order, the dishes a-row:        50
But the luncheon was wealth to the rat and the mouse
Whose descendants have long left the Dirty Old House.
 
Cup and platter are masked in thick layers of dust;
The flowers fallen to powder, the wine swathed in crust;
A nosegay was laid before one special chair,        55
And the faded blue ribbon that bound it lies there.
 
The old man has played out his part in the scene.
Wherever he now is, I hope he ’s more clean.
Yet give we a thought free of scoffing or ban
To that Dirty Old House and that Dirty Old Man.        60
 
 
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