Resolution and Independence

by William Wordsworth
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"The Oldest Man He Seemed That Ever Wore Gray Hair"

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Last Updated on October 18, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 248

Context: This poem records a meeting Wordsworth actually had with an old man, the one described in the quotation. The old man, survivor of his wife and his ten children, wandered about the English countryside, eking out an existence by gathering leeches, which he sold to doctors to use in drawing blood from their patients. His fortitude impressed the poet greatly. Here was a man who had suffered much and still retained his dignity and his nobility. Wordsworth was at the time more or less despondent, for his poetry had been ridiculed, his income was exceedingly slim, and his inheritance had been withheld, so that to him life seemed empty. The example of the old man gave the poet inspiration to look at life once again with confidence. The poet says he was inspired to faith in his own abilities and that he no longer needed to fear that he might fall victim, like Thomas Chatterton (referred to in Stanza 7), to despondency and suicide. The eighth stanza of the poem tells how Wordsworth, walking along in melancholy fashion and reviewing how life has mistreated him, meets the old leech-gatherer, who seems almost heaven-sent.

Now, whether it were by peculiar grace,
A leading from above, a something given,
Yet it befell that, in this lonely place,
When I with these untoward thoughts had striven,
Beside a pool bare to the eye of heaven
I saw a Man before me unawares:
The oldest man he seemed that ever wore grey hairs.

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