1807
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Resolution and Independence.

Poems in Two Volumes, by William Wordsworth, Author of the Lyrical Ballads.

William Wordsworth


21 irregular Spenserians (ababbcC), begun in 1802. The allusions to Thomas Chatterton and Robert Burns, the use of the rhyme-royal stanza with the "Spenserian" alexandrine, and the suggestion of allegory all suggest a knowing if oblique reference to the Spenserian tradition — which Wordsworth transforms and makes his own in the spectacular stanzas describing the leech-gatherer. Compare, also in rhyme royal, Chatterton's "An Excelente Balade of Charitie" which contains suggestive parallels to Wordsworth's poem. See E. H. W. Meyerstein, Life of Chatterton (1930) 504-05.

George L. Marsh sees "no sign of Spenserian influence," "Imitation and Influence of Spenser in English Poetry" (1899) 44, but Robert Southey, writing to Walter Scott, thought otherwise: "The Leech-gatherer is one of my favourites; there he has caught Spenser's manner, and, in many of the better poems, has equally caught the best manner of old Wither, who, with all his long fits of dulness and prosing, had the heart and would of a poet in him" 8 December 1807; Life and Correspondence (1849-50) 3:126.

Anne Seward to Walter Scott: "Above all the Leech-Gatherer, which is a perfectly original and striking poem. If he had written nothing else, that composition might stamp him a poet of no common powers" 24 August 1807; Letters, ed. Scott (1811) 6:367.

Francis Jeffrey: "We defy the bitterest enemy of Mr. Wordsworth to produce any thing at all parallel to this from any collection of English poetry, or even from the specimens of his friend Mr. Southey" Edinburgh Review 11 (October 1807) 223.

The Cabinet: "Mr. Wordsworth possesses several of the most essential qualities of the poet. He has a lively fancy, strong feelings, an imagination bold, and sometimes even sublime, an originality of expression, and has contemplated the scenery of nature for himself: but in taste he is deficient, and has still to learn 'the last and greatest art, the art to blot.' Wanting this, his fancy frequently degenerates into conceit, his feeling into puerile affectation, his sublimity into bombast, and his originality of expression into hardness and obscurity" 3 (April 1808) 249.

John Hamilton Reynolds: "The lightest objects become beautiful and eloquent by the radiance of his mind; — his imagination sheds a lustre over the dreaming days of childhood. He entices us through a green shrubbery, and refreshes us on the way with the melodies of nature; and we are suddenly surprised at finding ourselves at the steps of the Temple of Philosophy, the pillars of which he has himself decked with wreaths of flowers" The Champion (2 June 1816) 174.

C. H. Townshend: "Wordsworth may be said, in this composition, to have drawn, from the simplest elements, fine imagery and a noble moral. There is something exceedingly striking in the figure of the old man standing motionless upon the solitary moor. It seems peculiarly adapted to the purposes of painting, and has indeed been occasionally chosen by artists as a subject for their pencil" Blackwood's Magazine 26 (September-December 1829) 907.

Sara Coleridge to Henry Nelson Coleridge: "Scott's poems afford samples of lively force, but they contain little of that force which seizes the imagination, and obliges it to contemplate fixedly something spiritual, which has nothing in it of corporeal life. The 'Leech Gatherer' is a poem which is forcible but solemn; it arrests and fixes the mind, instead of hurrying or leading it on. Yet the illustrations of this poem are as lively as the main design is far removed from bodily attributes. The stone is absolutely endued with motion by the comparison with a sea-monster that had crept out upon the shore to sun himself. Liveliness expresses the motion, the action of life, that by which life is manifested" 13 September 1837; in Memoir and Letters (1874) 141.

Wordsworth alludes to Spenser in "I am not One" ["Personal Talk"]: "Two will I mention, dearer than the rest; The gentle Lady, married to the Moor; | And heavenly Una with her milk-white Lamb" ll. 40-42; "To Sleep" resembles "in its list of sleep-producing sounds, stanza 41 of Book I, Canto I of the Faerie Queene" George L. Marsh, "Imitation and Influence of Spenser" (1899) 51.

Resolution and Independence became the basis for a four-canto Spenserian allegory, John Payne Collier's Poet's Pilgrimage (1810 ca., 1822; 1825).

Traugott Bohme points out an allusion to Spenser in Epistle to George Beaumont: "Like a gaunt shaggy porter forced to wait | In days of old romance at Archimago's gate" (1911) 241.



There was a roaring in the wind all night;
The rain came heavily and fell in floods;
But now the sun is rising calm and bright;
The birds are singing in the distant woods;
Over his own sweet voice the Stock-dove broods;
The Jay makes answer as the Magpie chatters;
And all the air is fill'd with pleasant noise of waters.

All things that love the sun are out of doors;
The sky rejoices in the morning's birth;
The grass is bright with rain-drops; on the moors
The Hare is running races in her mirth;
And with her feet she from the plashy earth
Raises a mist; which, glittering in the sun,
Runs with her all the way, wherever she doth run.

I was a Traveller then upon the moor;
I saw the Hare that rac'd about with joy;
I heard the woods, and distant waters, roar;
Or heard them not, as happy as a Boy:
The pleasant season did my heart employ:
My old remembrances went from me wholly;
And all the ways of men, so vain and melancholy.

But, as it sometimes chanceth, from the might
Of joy in minds that can no farther go,
As high as we have mounted in delight
In our dejection do we sink as low,
To me that morning did it happen so;
And fears, and fancies, thick upon me came;
Dim sadness, and blind thoughts I knew not nor could name.

I heard the Sky-lark singing in the sky;
And I bethought me of the playful Hare:
Even such a happy Child of earth am I;
Even as these blissful Creatures do I fare;
Far from the world I walk, and from all care;
But there may come another day to me,
Solitude, pain of heart, distress, and poverty.

My whole life I have liv'd in pleasant thought,
As if life's business were a summer mood;
As if all needful things would come unsought
To genial faith, still rich in genial good;
But how can He expect that others should
Build for him, sow for him, and at his call
Love him, who for himself will take no heed at all?

I thought of Chatterton, the marvellous Boy,
The sleepless Soul that perish'd in its pride;
Of Him who walk'd in glory and in joy
Behind his plough, upon the mountain-side:
By our own spirits are we deified;
We Poets in our youth begin in gladness;
But thereof comes in the end despondency and madness.

Now, whether it were by peculiar grace,
A leading from above, a something given,
Yet it befel, that, in this lonely place,
When up and down my fancy thus was driven,
And I with these untoward thoughts had striven,
I saw a Man before me unawares:
The oldest Man he seem'd that ever wore grey hairs.

My course I stopped as soon as I espied
The Old Man in that naked wilderness:
Close by a Pond, upon the further side,
He stood alone: a minute's space I guess
I watch'd him, he continuing motionless:
To the Pool's further margin then I drew;
EIe being all the while before me full in view.

As a huge Stone is sometimes seen to lie
Couch'd on the bald top of an eminence;
Wonder to all who do the same espy
By what means it could thither come, and whence;
So that it seems a thing endued with sense:
Like a Sea-beast crawl'd forth, which on a shelf
Of rock or sand reposeth, there to sun itself.

Such seem'd this Man, not all alive nor dead,
Nor all asleep; in his extreme old age:
His body was bent double, feet and head
Coming together in their pilgrimage;
As if some dire constraint of pain, or rage
Of sickness felt by him in times long past,
A more than human weight upon his frame had cast.

Himself he propp'd, his body, limbs, and face,
Upon a long grey Staff of shaven wood:
And, still as I drew near with gentle pace,
Beside the little pond or moorish flood
Motionless as a Cloud the Old Man stood;
That heareth not the loud winds when they call;
And moveth altogether, if it move at all.

At length, himself unsettling, he the Pond
Stirred with his Staff, and fixedly did look
Upon the muddy water, which he conn'd,
As if he had been reading in a book:
And now such freedom as I could I took;
And, drawing to his side, to him did say,
"This morning gives us promise of a glorious day."

A gentle answer did the Old Man make,
In courteous speech which forth he slowly drew:
And him with further words I thus bespake,
"What kind of work is that which you pursue?
This is a lonesome place for one like you."
He answer'd me with pleasure and surprize;
And there was, while he spake, a fire about his eyes.

His words came feebly, from a feeble chest,
Yet each in solemn order follow'd each,
With something of a lofty utterance drest;
Choice word, and measured phrase; above the reach
Of ordinary men; a stately speech!
Such as grave Livers do in Scotland use,
Religious men, who give to God and Man their dues.

He told me that he to this pond had come
To gather Leeches, being old and poor:
Employment hazardous and wearisome!
And he had many hardships to endure:
From Pond to Pond he roam'd, from moor to moor,
Housing, with God's good help, by choice or chance
And in this way he gain'd an honest maintenance.

The Old Man still stood talking by my side;
But now his voice to me was like a stream
Scarce heard; nor word from word could I divide;
And the whole Body of the man did seem
Like one whom I had met with in a dream;
Or like a Man from some far region sent;
To give me human strength, and strong admonishment.

My former thoughts return'd: the fear that kills;
The hope that is unwilling to be fed;
Cold, pain, and labour, and all fleshly ills;
And mighty Poets in their misery dead.
And now, not knowing what the Old Man had said,
My question eagerly did I renew,
"How is it that you live, and what is it you do?"

He with a smile did then his words repeat;
And said, that, gathering Leeches, far and wide
He travelled; stirring thus about his feet
The waters of the Ponds where they abide.
"Once I could meet with them on every side;
But they have dwindled long by slow decay;
Yet still I persevere, and find them where I may."

While he was talking thus, the lonely place,
The Old Man's shape, and speech, all troubled me:
In my mind's eye I seem'd to see him pace
About the weary moors continually,
Wandering about alone and silently.
While I these thoughts within myself pursued,
He, having made a pause, the same discourse renewed.

And soon with this he other matter blended,
Chearfully uttered, with demeanour kind,
But stately in the main, and, when he ended,
I could have laugh'd myself to scorn, to find
In that decrepit Man so firm a mind.
"God," said I, "be my help and stay secure;
I'll think of the Leech-gatherer on the lonely moor."

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