The poet establishes in the first two stanzas the mood of nature when he traveled on the moor. The tense can be confusing. Wordsworth begins in the simple past, but the past serves here the uses of the present in the sense of active recollection of emotion in present tranquility. The BUT at the beginning of stanza four introduces the contrast that exists between the joy of nature and the dejection of the poet. The time that he recalls was one of a rising sun, ” calm and bright,” singing birds ” in the distant woods,” the ” pleasant noise of waters” in the air, the world teeming with ” all things that love the sun,” the grass jeweled with rain-drops, the hare running is his glee. But the poet’s morning is one subjectivity of dejection; on this morning did ” fears and fancies” come upon him profusely. In the midst of ” the sky-lark warbling in the sky,” he likens himself unto ” the playful hare”; even such a happy child of earth am I / even as these blissful creatures do I fare; / far from the world I walk, and from all careâ€¦.’ This is the joyous side of his life. But, in the midst of the joy, he thinks of that other kind of day that might come to him, that day of ‘ solitude, pain of heart, distress, and poverty.” In stanza 6 he recalls how his life has been as ” a summer, mood,” how the sustenance of life in all its nourishing variations has come to him so gratuitously. But, then he thinks also of the possibility that it will not continue so for one who takes no practical thought for his own care and keep. The question is, how long will nature continue to give freely to one who does not with diligent responsibility harvest grain for the garner of future days: ” but how can He [ in this case the poet himself] expect that others should / Blind for him, sow for him, and at his call / Love him; who for himself will take no heed at all?” the poet thinks of himself as poet, one endowed with his own privileged, joyous place in life, there comes to his mind the names of Thomas Chatteron and Robert Burns, poets in the English tradition that Wordsworth would admire. The association that he makes of himself with them is at one and the same time joyous and imminent: we poets in our use begin in gladness;/ but thereof come in the end despondency and madness.” The universal joy of the poet’s life is contemplated in range of potential sorrow.
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The beginning of stanza 8 marks a turning point in the poem. From this juncture to the end, the poet will tell how he learned what we find in the title, resolution and independence, and he learns significantly from a wanderer, a man who has subsisted on the gathering of leeches, a man who is now a beggar. As the poet thinks his ” untoward thoughts” about life and struggles with all their depressing suggestions, he meets in a lovely place ” beside a pool bare to the eye of heaven,” a solitary man, the poet says” the oldest man he seemed that ever wore grey hairs.” The poet interprets his meeting with him to be verily a gift of Devine Grace. Stanza nine is Wordsworth’s long simile for the old solitary. The purpose of the simile is to describe the leech gatherer as alive but almost not alive. Wordsworth compares him to ” a huge stoneâ€¦/ couched on the bald top of an eminence,” and to ” a sea- beast crawled forth” through using the sea beast as simile for the stone. The old man is virtually one with the scene amidst which he sits; he has very nearly become one with nature: ” motionless as a cloud the old man stood, / that hearth not the loud winds when they callâ€¦.” The encounter reveals to the poet a man of great age, bent double, ” feet and head / coming together in life’s pilgrimageâ€¦.” He looks as if he might be made taut in his bent posture by the tight strain of some past suffering, rage, or sickness. The poet is picturing him as very nearly supernatural, at least somehow beyond the usual scope of human experience: he seemed to bear ” a more than human weightâ€¦.”
In stanzas 12- 15, the old man finally moves. The poet sees him stir the waters by which he stands and then looks with fixed scrutiny into the pond, ” which he conned , / as if he had been reading in a bookâ€¦.” The poet greets him, and the old man makes a gentle answer, ” in courteous speech which forth he slowly drewâ€¦.” Wordsworth uses the whole of stanza fourteen to describe his speech, ” lofty utterance,” ” stately speech.” In lines 88 and 89, the poet asks him what his occupation is, and suggests that the place in which he dwells may be too lonely for such a person as he. The old man identifies his work as leech- gathering; this is why he is in such a lonely place. He must, ” being old and poor,” finds his subsistence here, though the work may be ” hazardous and wearisome.” He depends on God’s Providence to help him find lodging. But in all, he can be sure that he gains ” an honest maintenance,” however much he may have to roam ” from pond to pondâ€¦ from moor to moor.”
In lines106-119, the poet’s responses to the old leech-gatherer are told. While the old man had been answering his question about employment and placement in so lonely a setting, the poet becomes absorbed in the strange aspects of him who speaks. He loses the detail of answer the leech-gatherer is making; he cannot divide his words one from another. Lines 109-112 contain the essence of the poet’s articulation of his feelings. They should be read carefully and compared to other passages in Wordsworth’s poetry where he attempts to give voice to experience that is very close to mystical absorption. Observe here that the poet finds himself absorbed in the being of the solitary:
And the whole body of the man did seem
Like one whom I had met with in a dream;
Or like a man from some far region sent,
To give me human strength, by apt admonishment.
But the poet’s dejection returns. He thinks again the heavy thoughts of fear, of resistant, recalcitrant, ” cold, pain, and labour, and all fleshly ills,” and of those poets who have been mighty, but who have died in misery. He yearns to find some message of strength and hope in the leech-gather’s words, so he asks again, ” ‘ how is it that you live, and what is it you do? “‘
In lines120-126, the leech-gatherer repeats the nature of his work, but he adds that whereas he once could gather the object of his industry easily, he now because of the growing scarcity of leeches must travel more extensively- still he perseveres.
In lines127-133, the poet relates more of his private, unspoken response to the old Man. Against it happens that his mind wanders, as in stanza 16, while the leech-gatherer is answering his question. The poet pictures him as even more a solitary than he is in his present state; the poet’s imagination working on the figure before him makes of the wandering solitary very nearly a transcendent being, silent and eternal: ” In my mind’s eye (the poet affirms) I seemed to see him pace / About the weary moors continually, / wandering about alone and silently.” The poet is troubled by his own imaginative responses to the Man before him, but not troubled in a bad sense. This is the ministry of fear that we find so often in Wordsworth’s work.
In lines 134-140, the leech-gatherer’s resolution and independence is obvious to the poet in the way he moves from economically precarious condition to more cheerful utterances. The old Man before the poet is obviously a person of firm mind, however decrepit he might in appearance seem. He remains in the midst of whatever misfortune the society of man or isolation with the bare elements bearing him, a person of kind demeanor and stately bearing. The poet compares himself to the leech-gatherer and scorns himself for his dejection. He takes the old Man into his memory as an another point for future days and asks that God will help him to preserve what he has learnt: ” ‘God,’ said I, be my help and stay secure; I’ll think of the leech-gatherer on the lonely moor!’ “
As suggested in other places in this study, most of Wordsworth’s solitaries live as a part of the nature in which they move. There is the effect in this poem of the leech-gatherer going in and out of nature; the poet is for a time aware of him as a person confronting him face-to-face, but then he loses touch with him, as if he had blended back into the nature out of which he had momentarily stepped. One might profitably compare stanza sixteen, where Wordsworth speaks of the leech-gatherer as coming to him as if out of dream, which the Simplon Pass episode in Book Sixth of The Prelude. About line 600 of that book Wordsworth speaks of an imaginative experience in the following terms:
in such strength
of usurpation, when the light of sense
Goes out, but with a flash that has revealed
The invisible world, doth greatness make abode,
There harboursâ€¦ .
Wordsworth’s light of sense near to going out at least twice while he is talking to the leech-gatherer. One may also interestingly compare Wordsworth’s responses to the vision on Mount Snowdon in Book Fourteenth of The Prelude with his experiences while talking to the old Man he met on the moors. He certainly intends for the reader to be impressed with the leech-gatherer’s insistence on survival, survival that comes to him, we feel, to great degree because of a sheer act of will. Again, as with many of Wordsworth’s solitaries, courage is presented as with many of Wordsworth’s solitaries, courage is presented as the capacity to endure. There is a notable difference, however, between the courage of Michael and the courage of the leech-gatherer; never being sure he will find them, as she has been to Michael, who, though his farm is eventually lost after his death to owners outside his family, can live the total of his years on land that has been made his been own. Michael draws continual sustenance more from his own deep wells of unyielding fortitude. There is an obvious contrast also in this regard between the leech-gatherer and the Old Cumberland Beggar. The leech-gatherer accepts housing from those who will help him, but he does not have the regularity of affection and acts of kindness that the persons in the community of the Old Cumberland Beggar an area of nature in which he can live and die, in which he can make his home, Those who care for him are almost neighbors to him. The leech-gatherer is much more thrown on his own resources. It is in this that the poet learns his greatest lesson from him.
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There is in the encounter between the poet and the leech-gatherer the work of Providence. Wordsworth seems to say in the poem (and in the letter he wrote about the poet) that this old Man was sent to him for his own rehabilitation. This may seem in some ears to be very close to blaspheming the preciously human, that one human being would be so sacrified fro the instruction and welfare of another. But the rediscovery of stability and hope in the midst of dejection for the poet who writes the poem is certainly the direction of things from the early stanza of the poem, where the glory of the natural surroundings seem to be functioning expressly for the poet’s interesting. The hare that leaps joyfully through the first five stanza of the poem (mentioned three times in the five stanzas, in the second, third, and fifth) becomes in a way emblematic of the poet’s life. The hare is also a servant of the benignant Grace of God, bringing to the poet reminders that he is “â€¦such a happy child of earthâ€¦ .” There may be in the background the biblical records of God’s directly expressed mercy for man, even as incursions that cut with the particularity of biographical facts. But the leach- gatherer comes not so much in the mood and manner of historical encounter as he comes in the form of nature’s extension of herself, ministering through an agency that is close to being more a natural agency than a human one.
With regard to the language of the poem, Wordsworth is working with a seven- line stanza or rhyme royal. The longer last line has the effect of slowing down the narrative and giving more time to the reader for consideration. Wordsworth’s highly conscious artistry can be seen in his careful use of similes that describe the old man of the poem. The stone and the sea- beast of stanza nine, and the cloud in stanza eleven convey a sense of life that is highly worthy of the word.
On the subject of the language of the poem, one may question whether the diction that the poet attributes to the leach- gatherer is ” a selection of language really used by menâ€¦.” In stanza fourteen, the old man’s speech is described as ” choice words and measured phrase, above the reach / of ordinary menâ€¦.”
Wordsworth as a narrative poet has most of his characters as active, persons committed to action. He consistently draws his characters so that they are easily recognizable as human beings. They are usually three- dimensional characters that have definite features. For all of his shared identity with nature_ which is to a very great degree_ we still meet the leach- gatherer as man, not as thing. Stanza ten and eleven are examples of Wordsworth’s ability to create character in a relatively few lines; in this he shares a fame that is owned by only a few artists. The leach- gatherer is easily visualized, with his body bent double, “propped, limbs, body, and pale face. / upon a long grey stuff of shaven woodâ€¦ .” such vivid character drawing is necessary to give the old man the action of personality that he has, an action essential to his being for the poet a model of resolution and independence. Wordsworth’s characters are real because we can think of them as human beings. However heroic the leach- gatherer may be, his heroism does not take him beyond the limits of the human. We have in him no Achilles. His heroism is the kind that can be attained by human beings we know and meet. Generally Wordsworth’s character’s are real because we can think of them as human beings. The leach- gatherer shares much more with Abraham than with Achilles.
Sources: Barashc, F. The romantic Poets. Monarch press. New York: 1991.
Hough, G. The Romantic Poets. 1964.
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