The Poem

“Resolution and Independence,” known in manuscript as “The Leech Gatherer,” is a poem of 140 lines divided into twenty stanzas. The published title suggests the thematic moral learned by the speaker from an encounter with the leech gatherer, who supplies the manuscript title.

The poem is written in the first person, the speaker probably being the poet himself (when he was about to be married), who describes a strange experience he had one spring morning when he met an old man while walking across an English moor. The first two stanzas set the scene of an animated landscape filled with sounds of birds and rushing water, sights of bright sunshine reflected from wet grass, and a rabbit kicking up a mist as it runs away. The poet says, in the third stanza, that he was as happy as the scene he surveyed.

Yet unexpectedly, and suddenly, he fell into a deep melancholy, which he describes in the fourth and fifth stanzas. He is perplexed about his strange sorrow, which contrasts so strongly with the scene about him and his former happiness. In stanzas 6 and 7, he considers the plight of persons (perhaps like himself) who have spent their lives without much consideration for anything except their own happiness; two great poets, Thomas Chatterton and Robert Burns, illustrate the fate of those who begin in joy and end in great sadness.

In this meditative mood, the poet sees with surprise, in stanza 8, a very old man. The old man seems...

(The entire section is 523 words.)

Forms and Devices

The poem acquires its tone of solemnity and ritual encounter from its use of a stanzaic form associated with ceremony and seriousness: the rhyme royal (sometimes called the Chaucerian stanza, because Geoffrey Chaucer used it in several of his poems in the fourteenth century). This is a stanza of seven lines which are arranged to rhyme ababbcc. “Resolution and Independence” makes one change from the traditional form, because it adds an extra metrical foot to the seventh line to make a stanza of six iambic pentameter lines, concluding with a line of iambic hexameter (to echo the way the Spenserian stanza concludes). This additional, longer line brings each stanza to a thoughtful, self-reflective conclusion that provides a basis for renewed consideration and progressive self-examination to open each successive stanza.

Self-reflective meditation is dramatized by the encounter between poet and leech gatherer, as each seems puzzled by the strange behavior of the other. Since the form of the poem is controlled by the poet, his own strangeness is objectified by the reflection of his consciousness in the appearance of the other person. The dramatic encounter becomes an occasion for self-awareness for the poet. There is a hint of narrative to the poem, because the poet tells a story with a beginning, middle, and end to outline the plot of a young man’s growing up: It is thus a form of initiation and springtime renewal.

The poet’s...

(The entire section is 500 words.)