I'll tell thee everything I can; There's little to relate. I saw an aged aged man, A-sitting on a gate. "Who are you, aged man?" I said, "And how is it you live?" And his answer trickled through my head Like water through a sieve.
He said, "I look for butterflies That sleep among the wheat: I make them into mutton-pies, And sell them in the street. I sell them unto men," he said, "Who sail on stormy seas; And that's the way I get my bread— A trifle; if you please."
But I was thinking of a plan To dye one's whiskers green, And always use so large a fan That they could not be seen. So, having no reply to give To what the old man said, I cried, "Come, tell me how you live!" And thumped him on the head.
His accents mild took up the tale: He said, "I go my ways, And when I find a mountain-rill, I set it in a blaze; And thence they make a stuff they call Rowland's Macassar-Oil— Yet twopence-halfpenny is all They give me for my toil."
But I was thinking of a way To feed oneself on batter, And so go on from day to day Getting a little fatter. I shook him well from side to side, Until his face was blue: "Come, tell me how you live," I cried, "And what it is you do!"
He said, "I hunt for haddocks' eyes Among the heather bright, And work them into waistcoat buttons In the silent night. And these I do not sell for gold Or coin of silvery shine, But for a copper halfpenny, And that will purchase nine.
"I sometimes dig for buttered rolls, Or set limed twigs for crabs; I sometimes search the grassy knolls For wheels of hansom-cabs. And that's the way" (he gave a wink) "By which I get my wealth— And very gladly will I drink Your Honour's noble health."
I heard him then, for I had just Completed my design To keep the Menai bridge from rust By boiling it in wine. I thanked him much for telling me The way he got his wealth, But chiefly for his wish that he Might drink my noble health.
And now, if e'er by chance I put My fingers into glue, Or madly squeeze a right-hand foot Into a left-hand shoe, Or if I drop upon my toe A very heavy weight, I weep, for it reminds me so Of that old man I used to know— Whose look was mild, whose speech was slow, Whose hair was whiter than the snow, Whose face was very like a crow, With eyes, like cinders, all aglow, Who seemed distracted with his woe, Who rocked his body to and fro, And muttered mumblingly and low, As if his mouth were full of dough, Who snorted like a buffalo— That summer evening long ago A-sitting on a gate.