On unexpected rain and Wordsworth (ii)

After lovely weeks of glorious sunshine and warm weather, we woke yesterday to the sound of rain – rain and the birds singing! Unexpected rain always brings to mind Wordsworth’s poem, Resolution and Independence. It was inspired by a meeting the poet had with an extraordinary old man up on the moors near Grassmere in the Lake District. Wordsworth had been in an unaccountably sad and depressed mood, which triggered thoughts of the young poet Thomas Chatterton who killed himself at the dreadfully young age of seventeen.

Wordsworth is roused from his depressed mood by this unexpected encounter:

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.

As a huge stone is sometimes seen to lie
Couched 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 crawled forth, that on a shelf
Of rock or sand reposeth, there to sun itself;

Such seemed 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 life’s 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 propped, limbs, body, and pale face,
Upon a long grey staff of shaven wood:
And, still as I drew near with gentle pace,
Upon the margin of that moorish flood
Motionless as a cloud the old Man stood,
That heareth not the loud winds when they call,
And moveth all together, 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 conned,
As if he had been reading in a book:
And now a stranger’s privilege I took;
And, drawing to his side, to him did say,
“This morning gives us promise of a glorious day.”

This extraordinary old man who seems a creature of the moors, made of stuff of the moors, rock, heather, water, mud, an old man who can barely walk and yet still goes about his business, of collecting leeches. The old man shocks the introspective poet from what might be called his self-indulgent misery.

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 occupation do you there pursue?
This is a lonesome place for one like you.”
Ere he replied, a flash of mild surprise
Broke from the sable orbs of his yet-vivid eyes.

His words came feebly, from a feeble chest,
But each in solemn order followed 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, that to these waters he 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 roamed, from moor to moor;
Housing, with God’s good help, by choice or chance;
And in this way he gained 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, by apt admonishment.

I will continue my thoughts on this marvellous poem tomorrow.

In case you missed what I wrote yesterday, here is a link:

https://loiselden.com/2018/07/12/unexpected-rain-and-wordsworth-i/

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