In “Resolution and Independence,” the encounter between the speaker and the leech-gatherer turns out to have great significance for the former. That's because the leech-gatherer, a man who, despite his old age and poverty, leads an honest, independent life, stands as a role model for the speaker, who fears that sorrow and despair await him.
The leech-gatherer may be old and decrepit, bent double by years of bending down to collect leeches, but there's something admirable about the way he goes about his work without any fuss or bother. There's also something about the way he talks, his “stately speech.” that attracts the attention of the impressed speaker. The old man may not be a poet, but his “lofty utterance” has a kind of poetic quality all the same.
In their brief conversation, the leech-gatherer tells the speaker about the many hardships that he's endured over the years. As well as being old and poor, he finds his work “hazardous and wearisome.” And yet it's still an honest living, and it's notable that when the speaker inquires as to his profession, the leech-gatherer answers with a smile, an indication that, despite the many privations of his daily existence, this is a man who counts his blessings.
The old man has set an example for the speaker to follow. He is impressed by the leech-gatherer's firmness of mind and resolution, so much so that he takes himself to task for being so miserable in the past. From now on, he hopes to show similar resolution and independence as the old leech-gatherer.