Resolution and Independence: Poem - Summary & Analysis

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      The poem Resolution and Independence begins with the description of a beautiful morning. Throughout the night there was a fierce storm accompanied by a heavy downpour of rain. But the morning rose fresh and clear, the sun appeared calm and bright, and the birds sang sweetly from the woods. The stock-dove, the jays and the magpies with their sweet voices and chattering sounds made the atmosphere happy and agreeable. The low murmuring of the neighboring brook, as it flowed along, provided a background of happiness. The living creatures were all up and active. The drops of water glistening on the grass reflected the bright rays of the rising sun. The hare, full of joy, frisked about. When it ran about the muddy ground, the particles of water which were thrown up seemed to follow the animal like a thin cloud of mist.

      On such a beautiful morning, the poet Wordsworth went out for a walk. It was then that he saw the hare frisking about and heard the flow of the distant stream. He felt exceedingly happy. In that delightful mood, he forgot everything else, except the beauty of the scene and the agreeableness of the weather. In his that state of mind, he could not think of anything else. He forgot the sad and foolish thoughts and actions of the mass of people.

      But the joy he felt was short-lived. Presently, he became gloomy. From, the heights of joy, he had plunged into the depths of sorrow. Many an imaginary fear gripped his mind. He could not explain either the change that came over him or the cause of his sadness. The singing skylark and the frisking hare did thrill him, and he became one with them in their happiness. Rid of the cares and worries of the world, he felt that his happiness was complete. But thoughts about solitude, poverty and mental distress overwhelmed him at that moment. He thought that he, too, might have to suffer such things in future.

      The poet had always been in a happy mood. He had fully believed that faith in God and sincere friendship towards men would keep him happy forever. But now he began to doubt the truth of such convictions. He could not depend on others for his happiness and future comfort. His happiness should depend upon his own efforts. He knew that he had not provided for his future, having spent his life in idle enjoyment. He doubted very much whether others would help him when he stood in need of such help. He thought about the young poet, Chatterton, who in spite of his greatness came to a very sad end. In his pride he had committed suicide. Burns; the great Scottish poet, lived the life of a farmer. He was a happy man and yet he died disappointed and in bad health at the age of thirty-seven. Wordsworth thought that youth was a period of happiness for the poets, but that late on they became gloomy and distressed.

      While Wordsworth indulged in such sad thoughts he happened to see a very old man standing near a pool close by. The old man had snow-white hair. Whether he appeared there by chance or as an instrument of God could not be learned. He was like a huge rock on the top of a hill whose position and appearance made it look like a sea-monster enjoying the sunlight. The old man too had simply come to be there. No explanation was possible about him. Even in his extreme old age he seemed to be doing something. He was bent double with age. He looked as if he were hunch-backed, as if some great pain was oppressing him. He supported his body on a long piece of pine-wood. Wordsworth approached him gently. The old man, however, remained motionless as a cloud unaffected by the wind blow.

      The poet saw him moving about and trying to collect something from the surface of the water with his stick. Wordsworth opened conversation with him by asking him whether the day was not a glorious one. The old man politely replied to the question. But when he was asked what he was doing in that lonely place, the old man, with eyes which revealed mild surprise, feebly answered. The words that he used were apt, expressive and dignified as the speeches of the serious religious preachers of Scotland. He was not able to do any heavy work, and yet he had to earn his livelihood. He was gathering leeches. It was a very tiresome work and not a profitable one either, to go to various ponds and to collect leeches. It was, however, an honest life, and the way he went about it in spite of handicaps, filled Wordsworth with great admiration for him.

      The old man went on talking. But the poet could neither understand his meaning nor attend to him carefully. Slowly the figure of the old man seemed to vanish from his view. The poet felt that the old leech-gatherer was some unknown messenger of God, imparting to him the message of resolution and independence. While thinking thus, the old pessimistic thoughts came back to him. Perplexed by such conflicting emotions, he once again asked the old man about his work and way of life. With a smile on his lips, the leech-gatherer reminded him of the reply he had already given. He was gathering leeches in order to support himself. The leeches were once plentiful in those parts. But there were very few left. And yet, in spite of their scarcity, he continued collecting them, because there was nothing else that he could honestly do for a living.

      Wordsworth sympathized with the old man in his poverty and in his troubles. He was himself very much troubled at heart and the loneliness of the place added to his gloom. He saw before his mind s eye the difficulties experienced by the good old man. The Leech gatherer talked again in a more cheerful manner. His dignified bearing and cheerfulness infected the poet also. He prayed for God’s help and promised, whenever he felt gloomy and afflicted to think of the humble leech-gatherer in that lonely moor. He learned a lesson the need for the spirit of resolution and independence in the midst of poverty, old age and suffering.


      Lines. 6—7. The Jay makes.....noise of waters: Wordsworth in his poem Resolution and Independence describes the setting in which he saw the leech-gatherer on a lonely moor. His meeting with the leech-gatherer took place while he was walking upon the moor on a pleasant morning, immediately after a heavy downpour of rain in the previous night. The poet describes the scene in which he met the leech-gatherer.

      The morning was so pleasant, coming as it did immediately after the fresh rain of the night that the birds in the woods were singing Pleasantly. The stock-dove, the jay and magpie were all uttering their sweet melodious cries. To the ear of the poet it appeared as if the jay was giving reply to what the magpie was saying. Of course, this is purely poetic imagination. The jay and the magpie were not really talking to one another; but the poet hearing their cries alternately imagines that the one was talking to the other. Another sound which came to the ears of the poet was that of the waters of the stream, rushing down the mountain sides at some distance. The rushing sound of the waters was carried by the air to the place where the poet stood; and the poet feels that the atmosphere is filled with the pleasant sound of waters.

      One of the remarkable characteristics of Wordsworth’s poetry is the utter simplicity of the words which go to make it. He uses the simplest possible words, but produces a charming picture which rests in the mind long after the poem is read. These two lines illustrate the point. In the course of two short stanzas in which these lines appear, Wordsworth gives a beautiful yet simple picture of the sights and sounds observed by him on the morning when he met the leech-gatherer.

      Lines. 19—21. The pleasant season.....and melancholy: Wordsworth describes how he was completely happy when he went out upon the moors one early morning, when he happened to meet the leech-gatherer. He saw many objects of nature round about him which were exulting in the joys which Nature afforded them. Wordsworth was feeling one with them and identified himself with their joy. That particular morning was bright and lovely immediately after a downpour of rain in the night. The sky was free from clouds and the grass was bright with rain-drops. The hare was running races in her mirth. The poet saw the pleasant sight of the hare and the woods and heard the roaring of the distant waters of streams by the hill-side. He was thrilled by them and felt exquisitely happy.

      He forgot all his old feelings and contacts with other man. Forgetting for the time being the peculiar characteristics of the people in whose society he ordinarily lived, the poet gave himself up to the pure joy experienced by the innocent creatures of the rural atmosphere. The kind of life lived by fashionable men and women was so full of pride and pretense that it was disgusting to the poet. In the pleasant natural atmosphere in which he stood, far from the haunts of sophisticated men, the poet felt very happy. It was Wordsworth’s belief that life lived in close contact with nature would make men better as men. The contrast between the joyous naturalism of life on the moors and the rank materialism in sophisticated society is brought out.

      Lines. 22—25. From the might.....sink as low: Wordsworth explains how he happened to be immersed in sorrow and anxiety immediately after he felt elated and happy in the delightful natural surroundings of the moor. He refers to the some-what common occurrence in the life of human beings about the quality and quantity of joys and griefs experienced by them. It happens sometimes that the person who is enjoying great bliss is suddenly changed from his happy position into a very unfortunate one. The misery that succeeds is as great in intensity as the joy experienced earlier. Wordsworth says that his own experience on that historic morning of his meeting with the leech-gatherer was such a one. The lines contain a psychological truth.

      Joy and grief are two different states of mind: and generally, the capacity of one to experience joy is more or less equal to his capacity to experience sorrow. So it happens that the joys and sorrows of life are often more or less even. In Wordsworth’s case, we find an example of person capable of enjoying great delight, and of suffering equally great misery. The joy as well as the sorrow are the creations of Wordsworth’s mind. He was full of joy when he was in the cheerful surroundings of the moor with its woods and streams and birds and hares. He felt unhappy, in as great a measure, when he thought that sometime in the future he might come to a miserable end. We have in these lines a beautiful illustration of the maxim enunciated by Milton—

The mind is its own place and in itself
Can make a heaven of hell or a hell of heaven.

      Lines. 43—46. I thought of.....mountain side. In the mood of dejection which comes over Wordsworth in the midst of the happy surroundings of the moor, he thinks of the possibility of a gloomy end for him as a poet. He is afraid, not having done anything to save himself from an unhappy old age, that he might very probably end his life in poverty and trouble. He also feels that he would have no reason to complain if such a miserable end came upon him, because, he had not done anything to prevent the unhappy plight. Wordsworth is reminded of the lives of Chatterton and Burns. Chatterton died at the age of 18, unable to face the neglect of a world which did not recognize his poetic genius. His was a precocious genius and he composed poems in the style of 15th century poets while he was still in his teens. He expected that the literary world in London would extol him for his merits; but when he found himself being treated with utter neglect, he committed suicide in a London garret.

      Burns lived in the countryside and composed some beautiful verse, which is still admired by literary critics. Some of Burns’s poems sprang directly from his life as a farmer. But his later years were sad and he died at the early age of 37.

      Poets imagine themselves to be gods, exalted above the ordinary human destiny of suffering. Wordsworth’s fears were, indeed, justified, because though he did not die or suffer poverty like Chatterton and Burns, we may consider his poetic life to have been at an end when he was about the same age as Burns was when he died. The later career of Wordsworth was barren of poetical excellence, all his fine poetry having been written and published before he was 40. However, it: is not to the decline of poetical genius that he refers to here, but to the sheer ills which befall old age and improvidence.

      Lines. 59—61. Wonder to.....with sense: In these lines from Resolution and Independence, Wordsworth compares the appearance of the old leech-gatherer whom he saw on the lonely moor of a huge stone which sometimes is seen to lie right on the top of a hill. The appearance of a huge stone which cannot be easily lifted or moved about by human beings, on the top of a hill, naturally rouses speculations in the mind of the onlooker. He wonders how the stone came to occupy that position. Being unconnected with the rock beneath it, the huge stone appears to have migrated to that place from some other region. As no human agency could have brought it there, it seems as if it had come there of its own accord. It is therefore a matter of surprise that a seemingly inanimate object like a stone should have come from some great distance to the top of the hill. To Wordsworth the old leech-gatherer was a curious phenomenon. He could not imagine how or where from the old man could have come. This is one of the reasons which induce Wordsworth to feel that the leech-gatherer was somewhat superhuman.

      The comparison of the old man to a huge stone and later the comparison of the stone to a sea-beast are beautiful examples of Wordsworth’s imaginative talent.

      Lines. 96—98. A Stately speech.....their dues: Describing the slow manner in which the old leech-gatherer gave a dignified reply to the poet’s question regarding his occupation, Wordsworth says that the old man was polite and full of dignity. The poet compares his words to the kind of speech indulged in by serious minded, religious man in Scotland. The Scotch people were famous for their religious zeal as well as for their simple living The poet is therefore reminded of these men when he saw the simple leech-gatherer, talking in a dignified manner. Wordsworth has great regard for such sincere souls who lived according to the tenets of the Bible and performed their duties to God and man alike.

      It is but natural that Wordsworth who held, anti-materialistic views admires the simplicity of life and sincerity of religion in these exemplary Scotch men. Wordsworth’s utter distrust and dislike of materialism is expressed very strongly in a sonnet written by him about the same time as the composition of this poem. The sonnet beginning “The world is too much with us” illustrates this attitude of the poet in a marked manner.

      Lines. 113—116. The fear.....misery dead: When Wordsworth saw the leech-gatherer on the lonely moor, the fears which were troubling his mind till then, momentarily gave way to a sense of surprise and wonder in seeing so dilapidated a person before him. Wordsworth then asked him what occupation he pursued in that lonesome place. But while the old man was giving a reply, Wordsworth’s thoughts strayed away and he did not make out what the old man said. It appeared to him as if the old leech-gatherer, with a firmness of mind in an infirm age, was a superhuman guidance sent purposely by God to him. But soon the former fears of Wordsworth concerning his own future came to him poignantly. Wordsworth’s fear was that, not having provided himself for the ills of old age, he might end his days in misery like Chatterton and Burns.

      The very consciousness of this fear, which had a benumbing effect, put a stop to the joy he had been experiencing till that moment. The more he thought of his future, the darker it seemed to be. He could not therefore hope with any semblance of reason that his future would be all right. He felt that very probably there would be days of suffering, sickness and poverty before him. He could not keep his mind at ease. He could not understand how the leech-gatherer, whose occupation was definitely more risky and precarious than his own, could maintain calmness of mind and courage of outlook.

      The lesson which Wordsworth, and which he wants his readers to note, is evidence that it is possible and desirable to put one’s trust in God and do one’s duty unmindful of consequences. Such a purposeful and courageous life will not only be useful but also inspiring.

      Lines. 139—140. “God, said I.....lonely Moor”: In the concluding lines of the poem Resolution and Independence, Wordsworth draws inspiration from the life and character of the leech-gatherer. He takes him for an object lesson and learns the great lessons of resolution and independence from him.

      Wordsworth was puzzled when he saw the decrepit leech-gatherer, going about collecting leeches under unfavorable circumstances. He never expected that a man of his age and feeble strength could depend on a precarious profession like leech-gathering. However, the old man explained to the poet how he persevered in spite of odds in a cheerful and pious manner. This produced an indelible impression on the mind of the poet with regard to the old man’s strength of purpose. He was ashamed of his own weakness in considering that he might come to grief at the end. So Wordsworth decides to hold the old man as an example to copy from. He feels that God himself had sent the man to give him strength, by apt admonishment.

      The moral of the story of the leech-gatherer is made clear by the poet in these concluding lines of the poem. It is this thought which he crystallizes in the title “Resolution and Independence”. Wordsworth’s creed as a poet was to teach the world some of the fundamental truths of life. The didactic element in Wordsworth’s poetry is often therefore clear enough. But it is nowhere more clear than in these concluding lines of The Leech-Gatherer.


Introduction: The Origin of the Poem

      Resolution and Independence have been cited as an example of the manner in which Wordsworth’s poetry often flowed from his subconscious memory. It is a case of “slow gestation”, of “powerful feeling recollected in tranquility”. The poem gives us an idea of the transforming power of the imagination—especially if we compare it with the record of its origin given by Dorothy Wordsworth in her journal. She records the facts. They met the leech-gatherer on the road in October, 1800, when he was on his way to Carlisle. He had a coat thrown over his shoulders and wore an apron and a cap. He was bent almost double. Dorothy continues:

His face was interesting. He had dark eyes and a long nose.....He was of Scotch parents. He had a wife, and she was a good woman, and “it pleased God to bless us with ten children.” All these were dead, but one.....He had been hurt in driving a cart, his leg broken, his body driven over, his skull fractured. His trade was to gather leeches, but now leeches were scares, and he had not the strength for it.....He lived, by begging and was making his way to Carlisle where he should buy a few goodly books to sell...

      These facts are not the stuff of poetry. We will notice that the facts Wordsworth incorporates are slight compared with the changes he makes. The setting, for instance, had been quite transformed to the immense and desolate moor which adds to the power and intensity of the poem.

Substance and Theme of the Poem

      The poem Resolution and Independence begins with a series of nature pictures—all depicting the joy of the morning after a heavy shower in the night. The hare runs in glee, the skylark warbles and there is the sound of roaring waters. But the excessive joy in the poet’s mind only turns to dejection and sadness. He thinks of Chatterton and Burns—he thinks of poets who begin life in gladness but are overtaken by madness and dejection. While meditating thus, the poet sees an old man. The poet talks with him and as he hears the simple but dignified words spoken by the old man—the leech gatherer—he realizes the significance of the strength of mind and permanence of spirit behind the old age, poverty and decrepit appearance. We can call the poem a lyric about the evolution of an observer through his developing vision of an old man. The old man’s existence is “mysterious”—he appears half-inanimate. The “old man is neither unequivocally objective nor the other because he looks as he does and means what he does only to this particular observer, who has just passed from joy in identifying himself with nature to despair in realizing the difference from nature”, as Robert Langbaum observes.

Mood of Dejection and Pessimism: Note of Paths

      Resolution and Independence at once strike us for its note of dejection and pessimism. The poet’s mind is full of fears and fancies, dim sadness and blind thoughts. Despondency and madness, he reflects, overtake the initial “gladness” of poets, referring to Chatterton and Burns. Thoughts of sadness, pain of heart, distress and poverty are emphasized by the old leech-gatherer’s sad looks. He is old, decrepit, broken and bent double; he roamed from pond to pond, from moor to moor, enduring many hardships. The encounter with the old man and his story makes the poet sad again—former thoughts return with the “fear that kills” and the “hope that is unwilling to be fed” along with the

“cold, pain and labor, and all fleshly ills.”

Subjectivity: The Poet’s Preoccupation with his Own Thoughts

      The poet remains preoccupied with his own thoughts, feeding his own melancholy for several stanzas. Then the leech-gatherer breaks in and with him the external world:

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.

      Before this, the poet dwells on his own sadness and explains how a mood of dejection so often overcomes a mind which had been joyful only a moment before, and though Nature is still full of joy. Indeed, the contrast between the cheerfulness of nature and the poet’s own melancholy is impressive.

The Old Man’s Significance: Symbol of Strength of Mind

      The pathos of the old man with his “hazardous and wearisome” employment, however, is not overwhelming; he does not bemoan his situation. He speaks with dignity and firmness of mind. Gradually, as the old man speaks, his significance penetrates the poet’s mind. Behind the old age, poverty and decrepit appearance, lies strength of mind, dignity and poise—things which the poet, in his present state of mind, cannot claim. The poet tries to break the grip of his melancholy by renewing his questions. The strength of ultimate humility, and its enduring quality, strikes the poet slowly and the leech-gatherer emerges as a symbol:

In my mind’s eye I seemed to see him. pace
About the weary moors continually.
Wandering about alone and silently.

      The syllables move slowly, suggesting the quality of relentless persistence without complaint—the old man plods on “silently”. The poet has understood the implications of what he has seen and heard; the verse brings it home to the reader.

Moral Strength Derived from the Lonely Old Man and Nature

      The old man proves to be a source of strength to the sinking spirits of the poet who reaches his conclusion:

“God”, said I, “be my help and stay secure;
I’ll think of the leech-gatherer on the lonely moor.”

      The moral note is seldom absent from Wordsworth’s poetry. The old man, belonging as he did to the humble section of humanity, is a typical Wordsworthian figure. Living close to Nature, he is closely assimilated to his surroundings. At the same time, he mediates between the natural world and the poet in such a way as to bring home to him the qualities of mind and character which are the first of the influences of natural objects. Indeed, the old man almost appears as an inanimate object—“not all alive or dead,/Nor all asleep” as he stands:

Motionless as a cloud
That heareth not the loud winds when they call,
And moveth all together, if it move at all.

      The Leech-Gatherer becomes a symbol of firmness in adversity, of resolution and independence, of courage and perseverance.

Personal Importance of Poem

      The poem is of personal importance to Wordsworth—it shows him to be still capable of passing into the visionary state when deeply moved by human encounters. The great significance which the old man came to have for him was the result of the accumulated fears and hopes of his creative years. Yet, in the end it was a simple moral experience.

Style: Images, Similes and Language

      The style of the poem is simple and lucid and most effective—bald but grand as the mountain tops, as Matthew Arnold observed. The movement of the verse suits the feeling and sentiment being expressed. The early stanzas dealing with the poet’s melancholy and fears have a quality of restlessness; but the verse describing the old man moves forward with an impressive deliberation, creating a sense of primitive strength and reliability—“a rock in the turmoil of the poet’s thought”, as one critic so aptly puts it. Once again, in lines 129-131, the use of long syllables moving slowly, suggests the relentless, weary, but continual persistence of the old man as he plods on “silently”. The reassurance offered by the picture of the old leech-gatherer is felt in the measured simplicity of the verse.

      The similes in the poem Resolution and Independence, speak of Wordsworth’s imaginative power even as they are apt and effective. The old man’s close assimilation with natural surroundings make him almost an inanimate object, a part of Nature as it were. He is compared to a huge stone which is sometimes seen to be “couched on the bald top of an eminence” or hill which makes people wonder how it came to be there. Again, he is compared to a sea beast:

Crawled, forth, that on a shelf
Of rock or sand reposeth, there to sun itself....

      The whole passage with its similes conveys the reaction of surprise felt by the poet. At the same time, the three primeval elements—rock, sea and sun, are associated in the image, and also relate to the strength of beasts. The images also reinforce the permanence of inanimate objects with the strength of beasts—of the sort of beast that might belong to another element as old and enduring as rock, sun and sea. The same quality of firm motionless strength is conveyed in the comparison of the old man with a cloud.

      The nature-images in the first two stanzas are noteworthy—they again show the transforming power of imagination. Indeed, the figure of the leech-gatherer is poetized by placing him in the setting of a vast, desolate moor with the sunrise and the roar of woods and distant waters as a background. It is a setting which evokes Wordsworth’s visionary power.

      The language of the poem is simple but characterized by a felicity of expression—such as “fears and fancies thick upon me came” or “by our own spirits are we deified”. What a beautiful picture is conjured up when lie writes of the hare racing along with her feet raising a mist, glittering in the sun, from the plashy earth.

Why Call the Poem “Resolution and Independence”

      The poem, as critics have remarked, is not only typical of Wordsworth but also one of his best. But why call it Resolution and Independence when “The Leech-Gatherer” might have been suitable? Evidently, Wordsworth felt the former title to be more effective for bringing out the moral element in the poem. Indeed, he felt that the poem’s power lay in the lesson it conveyed. However, the modern reader feels the power to lie more in the evocation of the old man’s figure appearing as an integral part of the desolate moor.

Weakness in the Poem

      Resolution and Independence have one weakness which arises, according to R.O.C. Winkler, from the drawing of the old man’s character. The impression that he makes on the poet is very tellingly conveyed, but the reality which is the basis for this impression is less substantial.


      Resolution and Independence, whether its title is apt or not, is one of “the most Wordsworthian of Wordsworth’s poems and is the best test of ability to understand him” as A.C. Bradley remarks. It illustrates Wordsworth’s contention of idealizing the common-place, poetisation of the unpoetic, and sublimation of the platitudinous. Wordsworth is interested in men as men, and as part and parcel of the grand phenomenon of Nature. The leech-gatherer typifies the humble section of humanity living in close communion with nature, and in whom the poet can reach the root of humanity bereft of the artificial trimmings of refinement and civilization. The leech-gatherer is invested with the atmosphere of what Wordsworth called “visionary dreariness”, from which he was able to draw a strange inward strength and peace, as Mary Moorman observes. Calling the poem Wordsworth’s: greatest and most characteristic poem, Arthur Symons goes on to say that in it Wordsworth has gathered up all his qualities, dignity, homeliness, meditation over man and nature, respectful pity for old age and poverty, detailed observation of natural things, together with an imaginative atmosphere which melts, harmonizes, the forms of cloud and rock and pool and the voices of wind and man into a single composition.

      The Leech-Gatherer or Resolution and Independence was composed at Townend, Grasmere, in 1802. It was not, however, published till five years later. Margaret Drabble calls it an extraordinary and powerful work. The leech-gatherer impresses Wordsworth not by what he says but by what he is. It is the circumstances, not the thought which counts.

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