Wander Among the Bookshelves in the Poem 'The Bookshop' by Dick Allen

Wander Among the Bookshelves in the Poem 'The Bookshop' by Dick Allen

Monday, 27 March, 2023

We love a bright, airy bookshop with natural light streaming in big windows. Maybe there’s a cozy café tucked into a corner or up a winding staircase to a second story lined with books and smelling of fresh coffee.

But we have also been known to fall in love with a moodier bookshop — one that’s seen books pass in and out of its shelves for decades. Perhaps there are some secrets tucked among the weathered spines and bits of paper with the smell of old books wafting in the air.

This poem by American poet Dick Allen evokes the latter. It invites a leisurely stroll among the shelves of a shop with history and a seasoned bookseller.


The Bookshop — Dick Allen

  • You enter in the evening, after walking down
  • Three steps to a miniature courtyard and a door tied open
  • With a piece of brown twine. The table lamps
  • Have tassled shades the color of scorched parchment,
  • Tiny pools of yellowed light beneath them,
  • So that looking across the room seems like looking
  • Across a small autumn garden. The proprietor,
  • Wire-rimmed glasses glinting, nods but doesn’t lift his head
  • From his reading and the rye bread sandwich
  • Into which he’s nibbled an almost total moon.
  • You browse, and while you do, your hands
  • Grow heavy and old, as if by taking close-packed books
  • From their shelves you are pulling bricks from a wall
  • Bound to collapse should you remove too many
  • And not replace them. What you’re searching for, among
  • These histories, these poems, these illuminated guides
  • To the soul, or the soul’s companions… these compendiums
  • Of fossils, stars, speeches, journeys when the world
  • Was a path through forest or waves against painted eyes
  • On the bow of a wooden ship plying the Aegean,
  • Is a single line of calm. This evening, you come close,
  • Closer than ever before, for it starts raining
  • Outside among the streetlights, and a tabby cat
  • Does figure eights around your ankles, the proprietor
  • Sighs deeply behind you. When you turn, he’s brushing
  • Specks of pale white brie and crumbs of bread
  • Carefully from the pages of his open manuscript
  • Into crumpled wax paper. Without a word
  • He takes the book you hand him, toting its price and tax
  • On the smudged back of an envelope, his stubby pencil
  • Writing small numbers. You pay him what he asks
  • And walk out into the rain, a black umbrella
  • Held high above you, the bookshop receding
  • Until it becomes a dab of flickering light
  • In the far reaches of Prague, or Budapest, or Rome,
  • Or what the eye sees when it looks down into
  • A heavily-varnished painting found behind the stacks
  • Of books in a closet: dark city at night unknown;
  • Artist unknown; the light almost there, almost gone;
  • Rain and leaves and shadows on the cobblestones.

About Dick Allen

Dick Allen was born in 1937 and grew up near the Adirondack Mountains in New York. His work was influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Robert Frost. He was one of the founders of a movement started in the 1980s called Expansive poetry, which he described as ‘narrative, dramatic and sometimes lyric poetry of the late 20th Century that conveys significant non-Confessional observations, thoughts and feelings about the world outside the Self and about the Self’s various relationships with this outer world.’ In 1984, he was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry for his book Overnight in the Guest House of the Mystic. He also won the Robert Frost Prize, Hart Crane Poetry Prize, and Pushcart Prize, among others. Read more of his poems at New Criterion and Poetry Foundation.

Top image courtesy of Hatice Yardım/Unsplash.

Want to keep up with our book-related adventures? Sign up for our newsletter!

keep reading

What's better than a charming indie bookshop with a cozy café next door? A bookshop with a café right inside. Or a café that sells a few carefully curated books. We love bookshops and cafés, is what we're saying.
We love this sweet poem that perfectly captures the magic of getting lost in a great book. If you think you don't 'get' poetry, give this one a try.
Poet Czesław Miłosz lived through the most dramatic events of 20th-century Europe. He worked in the Polish Resistance, translated Shakespeare, and composed poetry of great power, including this love letter to books.
If you love books and bookshops, what's better than novels _about_ books _set in bookshops_?! These stories feature unforgettable characters who spend their days among the shelves of bookshops you will want to visit.
Thank goodness for an active imagination and a well-stocked library, or many of us might actually wander — in real life — down that shadowy corridor or into a secret passage that leads... who knows where. Dare you!
Forget the hard sell. A few key phrases will probably prove this delightful adventure is right for you: 24-hour bookstore. Mysterious library. Secret society. Loyal friendship. Flirty romance. Extreme bookishness.
Pssst... how'd you like to sleep INSIDE a bookshelf?! That's exactly what you'll get to do at Book and Bed Tokyo, a collection of six hostels devoted to reading (and a little bit of sleeping).
The Brattle Book Shop has been in business since 1825, and today, the unassuming three-story brick building is packed with more than 250,000 used books, maps, prints, postcards, and other paper collectibles.
The Waterstones in Bradford, England is a cathedral of books. You can browse the stacks of carefully curated books under soaring ceilings and stained glass windows, then enjoy a cuppa in the balcony café.
If you're looking for a zine about awesome pizza, indie magazines, or a Q&A with your favorite graphic novelist, Quimby's Bookstore in Chicago is your kind of place. Fulfilling all your weird book needs since 1991.
Daunt Books Marylebone is like Strong Sense of Place became sentient and took up residence in an Edwardian bookshop. Its collection of curated books, stained glass window, reading nooks make it a must-visit bookshop.
Typewronger Books in Edinburgh is the bookish retreat of our dreams: a cozy shop that only has the good stuff with a literary magician behind the counter. He looks into your soul and gives you the right book.
It's a readers' paradise: buttery scones and shortbread and tea, a windy landscape with the scent of the sea, and bookshops. Oh, the bookshops! Every genre, new and used, and a bookstore cat. What else could you need?
Bookshop.org is a new online book retailer that shares its revenue with local, independent bookstores. It's bridging the significant gap between online sales and the neighborhood bookshop (you love) down the street.
One of our favorite ways to mingle with locals in new-to-us cities is among the shelves of a neighborhood bookshop — it's even better when they include English-language books. These two in Stockholm are must-visits.
One of the treats of travel is browsing the shelves of a bookstore in a far-flung locale. It feels both completely foreign and blessedly familiar all at once. Add Atlantis Books on Santorini to your must-visit list.
What makes an already fantastic place even better? A bookshop, of course. And when it's a lovingly preserved historic shop with a friendly bookseller (in tweed) with stunning views out the windows, we're all in.

sharing is caring!

Can you help us? If you like this article, share it your friends!

our mission

Strong Sense of Place is a website and podcast dedicated to literary travel and books we love. Reading good books increases empathy. Empathy is good for all of us and the amazing world we inhabit.

our patreon

Strong Sense of Place is a listener-supported podcast. If you like the work we do, you can help make it happen by joining our Patreon! That'll unlock bonus content for you, too — including Mel's secret book reviews and Dave's behind-the-scenes notes for the latest Two Truths and a Lie.

get our newsletter
We'll never share your email with anyone else. Promise.

This is a weekly email. If you'd like a quick alert whenever we update our blog, subscribe here.

no spoilers. ever.

We'll share enough detail to help you decide if a book is for you, but we'll never ruin plot twists or give away the ending.

super-cool reading fun
reading atlas

This 30-page Reading Atlas takes you around the world with dozens of excellent books and gorgeous travel photos. Get your free copy when you subscribe to our newsletter.

get our newsletter
We'll never share your email with anyone else. Promise.
follow us

Content on this site is ©2024 by Smudge Publishing, unless otherwise noted. Peace be with you, person who reads the small type.