William Wordsworth is a Romantic poet, often regarded as the intellectual leader of the first wave of Romanticism. Wordsworth and Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads (1798) can be read as a manifesto for the Romantic movement, with poems that employed simple rhythms and rhymes, celebrated the natural world, and chronicled the heroic nature of ordinary people and everyday life.
"Simon Lee" is one of the lyrical ballads and tells a story about an old huntsman who is too weak to work but forced by poverty to do so. The simple ballad form initially makes the description of the old huntsman seem comic and heartwarming, but the verse becomes chilling as the reader begins to realize how desperate the old man's situation is. Wordsworth leaves the anecdote of the speaker's own encounter with Simon Lee to the end of the poem, remarking that the reader has a right to expect a story, but then reflecting:
O Reader! had you in your mind
Such stores as silent thought can bring,
O gentle Reader! you would find
A tale in every thing.
This approach, with a direct appeal to introspection on the part of the reader, is particularly characteristic of Romanticism. The tale itself can be told very quickly. Simon Lee is laboring in vain with an ax to cut the root of a tree. The speaker sees him, offers to help, and cuts the root with a single blow, whereupon the old man overwhelms him with thanks.
The poet scarcely needs to point out how common it is to find old people living in poverty, or how certain it is that the reader has many people like Simon Lee living close by. As a Romantic, however, he shows the heroism, dignity, and pride of the old man, drawing a lesson both from his situation and his attitude to it.