"What you see is poppy seed.

Lethean dreams for those in need."

He took up the grains with a gentle hand

And sifted them slowly like hour-glass sand.

On his old white finger the almandine

Shot out its rays, incarnadine.

"Visions for those too tired to sleep.

These seeds cast a film over eyes which weep.

No single soul in the world could dwell,

Without these poppy-seeds I sell."

For a moment he played with the shining stuff,

Passing it through his fingers. Enough

At last, he poured it back into

The china jar of Holland blue,

Which he carefully carried to its place.

Then, with a smile on his aged face,

He drew up a chair to the open space

'Twixt table and chimney. "Without preface,

Young man, I will say that what you see

Is not the puzzle you take it to be."

"But surely, Sir, there is something strange

In a shop with goods at so wide a range

Each from the other, as swords and seeds.

Your neighbours must have greatly differing needs."

"My neighbours," he said, and he stroked his chin,

"Live everywhere from here to Pekin.

But you are wrong, my sort of goods

Is but one thing in all its moods."

He took a shagreen letter case

From his pocket, and with charming grace

Offered me a printed card.

I read the legend, "Ephraim Bard.

Dealer in Words." And that was all.

I stared at the letters, whimsical

Indeed, or was it merely a jest.

He answered my unasked request:

"All books are either dreams or swords,

You can cut, or you can drug, with words.

My firm is a very ancient house,

The entries on my books would rouse

Your wonder, perhaps incredulity.

I inherited from an ancestry

Stretching remotely back and far,

This business, and my clients are

As were those of my grandfather's days,

Writers of books, and poems, and plays.

My swords are tempered for every speech,

For fencing wit, or to carve a breach

Through old abuses the world condones.

In another room are my grindstones and hones,

For whetting razors and putting a point

On daggers, sometimes I even anoint

The blades with a subtle poison, so

A twofold result may follow the blow.

These are purchased by men who feel

The need of stabbing society's heel,

Which egotism has brought them to think

Is set on their necks. I have foils to pink

An adversary to quaint reply,

And I have customers who buy

Scalpels with which to dissect the brains

And hearts of men. Ultramundanes

Even demand some finer kinds

To open their own souls and minds.

But the other half of my business deals

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