Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The narrator in this poem is, we may assume, Wordsworth. Certainly, he is a poet and makes reference to his art, alluding to another famous poet—Chatterton—who, like him, began life filled with "joy" at nature's glories but was easily made despondent (in Chatterton's case, this killed him). The narrator is hiking on the moors on the day after a heavy rainfall.
The second major character in the poem is a very old man the narrator stumbles across on his walk. So old is this man that the narrator thinks him "the oldest man...that ever wore gray hairs." He is physically very decrepit, his body bent double and leaning heavily upon a walking stick. When the poet meets the old man, he asks him what he is doing, and the old man seems surprised to have been asked. He says that he is an old, poor man who has come to the waterside to gather leeches, which he can then sell. The poet is impressed by the old man's forbearance. Despite being so extremely old and employed in such a hazardous and arduous enterprise, he does not allow himself to become despondent, but is "firm" and upbeat.
At the end of the poem, the speaker notes that when he himself feels a lack of security in his own thoughts and mood, he prays to God to help him— and thinks, for sustenance, about the inspirational example set by the leech gatherer.