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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 445

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Like many of Wordsworth's poems, this one takes the wildness of nature as its backdrop, expressing the Romantic viewpoint that nature can offer sustenance to the mind and soul. However, its primary message is, rather, that although nature can fill us with joy, there are times when the "blissful" temperament of more innocent creatures, such as the hare, seems very far away from us, and at times such as this, it can be a struggle to remain "secure" of mind and heart.

The speaker, writing in the voice of the poet himself, even notes that, although as a boy he always took joy in nature, he worries that many a poet has begun life joyfully, but has ended his days in "madness" and despair. He alludes to Thomas Chatterton, a boy poet who famously died young, and seems to be concerned that a similar fate might greet him.

However, it is at this point that the "Traveller" on the moors meets a fellow human, a man so old that he is bent double and leaning on a staff. The language used to describe this man gives the impression that he is somehow not quite of this world. Instead, he is "like a cloud," carrying a "more than human weight," and his bent body is coming together "in life's pilgrimage." His speech is "above the reach / of ordinary men." The imagery here suggests a connection between this man and God, not least the image of him as an old man with a staff, alone on the moors. Indeed, the poet muses that it is as if the man, as in a "dream," has been sent to him "from some far region...To give me human strength."

The story the old man tells clearly makes the poet feel as if he has no reason to complain. This man, so old and bent, spends his days in the arduous task of collecting leeches, and yet remains "firm" and "secure," speaking "cheerfully" in a way which seems like "admonishment" from God. The poet muses that he can imagine the old man wandering the moors continually. Altogether, the language seems to imply that the man is not human at all, but an admonishment sent to remind the speaker to take joy in what is around him, and to dispel "sadness" which creeps upon him unexpectedly, because others deal with far worse lives and yet remain cheerful.

The message of the poem, in the end, seems to be that God sends to each man what he needs, whether that be nature's bounty, inspiration, or simply good cheer. The speaker vows to think of the leech-gatherer when he has need of sustenance.

The Poem

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 523

“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 as solid as a great stone placed atop a hill; at the same time, he seems mysteriously out of place, the way a sea animal might if it has been found somewhere on land. The poet passes from these comparisons in stanza 9 to observe in stanzas 10 and 11 that the old man is a pathetic example of human suffering, one who searches for leeches in pools of water. These he might collect and sell for medical uses by physicians of the time.

Finally, in stanza 12, the poet speaks to the old man, asking how he makes his living, and hears a reply in stanzas 13 through 15. What strikes the poet, however, is not the substance of the old leech gatherer’s remarks, but rather the style of his speaking. In stanza 16, therefore, the poet realizes that he has not understood what the old man has been saying, so he has to repeat his question in stanza 17.

The leech gatherer is patient with the young poet, so he repeats his answer in stanza 18—that he gathers leeches from the pools on this barren moor. The effect of this encounter, produced by both the style and substance of the old man’s remarks, is described by the poet’s words in the last two stanzas: He is troubled, as if in a vision, with the image of the old man as a rebuke to himself for not being stronger, for not being more resolute and independent. In the future, when he feels again the temptation to fall into melancholy, he will remember the example of this old leech gatherer, whose fortitude will guard the poet against further temptations of despair.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 500

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 interest in the old man’s formal style of speech is a sign of the poet’s professional interest in language. The poem is highly metaphorical, creating an inner landscape from the imagery of the external setting, as when the opening stanza describes the brooding stock dove to convey a double sense of “brooding”: darkly thinking and warming to create new life. The sounds and signs of spring and morning, with rain and running water, yield to images of shallow pools in which the old man hunts for leeches. Most impressive, at the center of the poem’s form is the device of the double simile in stanza 9: Here the psychological impact of the old man’s appearance is conveyed by a comparison with a “huge stone” atop “an eminence,” and the stone itself is compared with “a sea beast crawled forth.” Several qualities of the old man’s significance are suggested: his peculiar appearance amid so much solitude, his condition of alienation, his fortitude, and his independence.

By the end of the poem, the old man has been internalized by the speaker, so that the poet’s mind becomes haunted by the memory of the leech gatherer as a monument to endurance, integrity, and resolution. The devices whereby this is accomplished are figurative uses of language which are metaphors of substitution, as the old man’s voice sounds like water and his very body is turned first into a rock, then a sea beast, a cloud, and finally a dream, as the poet transforms him into a figure of his own mind.