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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 376

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In keeping with much of Wordsworth's poetic output, nature, and the joy of nature, is a key theme in this poem. In the opening stanzas, the speaker is remarking upon the "sweet voice" of the birds he hears singing, and he takes time to observe the "pleasant noise" of rushing waters which fills the air. The speaker notes that, while a storm had stricken the moor the previous night, now every creature is outside enjoying the sun, and "the sky rejoices" in the beautiful morning. The Traveller, too, feels his "heart" captured by the "joys" of the spring morning; he is conscious of his own delight at the beauties of nature.

However, the poet does not only express joy and delight in nature. He moves on to note that, sometimes, as high as one's heart soars when out in nature, it can drop equally far into despair for no apparent reason. This introduces the second major theme of the poem: depression and dejection. The speaker uses language such as "sadness," "blind," and "low" and alludes to the poet Thomas Chatterton to underline the fact that, as humans, sometimes our thoughts become despondent and can even run into "madness," even where there is no real reason for it.

The climax of the poem introduces its third, redemptive theme: the idea that we should respect the humble who maintain their "cheerfulness" despite the difficulty of their daily lives and that we should thank God for sending these people to us as "admonishments." The old man the speaker meets is described in terms which suggest he is not quite, or rather, beyond, human. He has been sent to the poet from "some far region"—by implication, heaven. God, the poet indicates, will always send us what we need: in his case, it is this leech-gatherer, whose work is physically difficult and extremely lonely but who nevertheless remains sound of mind and gentle of voice. For the poet to allow himself to wallow in sadness where there is no reason for it is for him to disrespect the beauties of God's creation: a better example for him—and us—to follow would be that of the old man, who has very little but takes joy in what he does have.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 434

At the heart of the poem is the question of whether the poet will become a responsible human being, independent of others for his own happiness. He realizes that his essential quality of mental or spiritual identity cannot rely upon an external environment for its continuing strength. At first, the speaker feels at one with the happy springtime setting, but when he falls suddenly into despair, he is puzzled into a crisis of confidence in himself. Then, when he has most need, the old man appears as if “by peculiar grace” to serve as an admonishment.

All that occurs in the poem is a consequence of the poet’s sense of need, apparently without cause. The powers of mind, as imagination, usurp the poet’s consciousness of everything that surrounds him, including the leech gatherer, making it difficult for the poet to keep hold of the external reality through which both he and the leech gatherer move. In this is the theme of mental experience transcending physical limitations. Yet the poet’s imagination seizes upon the details of the encounter to nourish itself, to create a self-reflecting image for the poet to study as a lesson in resolution and independence.

The poet needed to feel self-reliant just as he was nearly falling into helpless and mysterious despair. The leech gatherer supplied what the poet needed, because the poet had the imagination to make use of the encounter. The meaning of the poem is that the human mind transcends the natural environment upon which it has been accustomed to depend and from which it can draw spiritual and mental nourishment, even though the lesson of transcendence is not without its mysteries and pains of dislocation. Every human being is, like the old man and, as the poem demonstrates, like the young poet, lonely and alienated from the rest of nature, because a human being is essentially different from natural being. Nevertheless, in a triumphant exercise of imaginative self-reflection, “Resolution and Independence” celebrates the human capacity to make use of the natural and to learn from sympathetic responses to fellow human creatures.

Themes of vocation, maturation, and creativity are embodied in the poem’s texture of natural imagery, dramatic awareness of human pathos, and narrative recall of a momentous morning’s adventure. Although the poem is not one of those which William Wordsworth called “lyrical ballads,” it nevertheless achieves the lyrical shape of those famous poems, because it makes its meaning a song of subjective achievement through a shaping of the objects of circumstance. Mind makes meaning from environment; environment does not make meaning for mind.