High on the list of forgotten professions is the ragpicking trade. But looking back to the 19th-century we see that he or she was a figure of import, a kind of urban seer whose daily toil paid off in inestimable wisdom. In The Ragpicker’s Wine, Baudelaire describes the nobility of this silent ghostlike presence:
One sees a ragpicker knocking against the walls,
Paying no heed to the spies of the cops, his thralls,
But stumbling like a poet lost in dreams;
He pours his heart out in stupendous schemes.
He takes great oaths and dictates sublime laws,
Casts down the wicked, aids the victims’ cause;
Beneath the sky, like a vast canopy,
He is drunken of his splendid qualities.
Ay, but it’s a hard life of suffering and exhaustion:
Yes, these people, plagued by household cares,
Bruised by hard work, tormented by their years,
Each bent double by the junk he carries,