Monday, February 20, 2012

004. The Leech-Gatherer. William Wordsworth. Appreciation By P S Remesh Chandran

004.

The Leech-Gatherer. William Wordsworth. Appreciation by P.S.Remesh Chandran
 
Editor, Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum

By PSRemeshChandra, 15th Mar 2011.
Short URL http://nut.bz/134a-2vx/
Posted in Wikinut Poetry, Criticism


William Wordsworth's poetry has no style because Nature and Life has no style. The perfect plainness of his poems gained him popularity. He mostly wrote about Nature and Man and is considered the world's greatest Nature Poet. The world was very late in recognizing his merit. However, Glory found its way into his grave. The Leech-Gatherer is the universal symbol of Eternal Human Labour.
A poet's perennial interest in Man and Nature.

A portrait of William Wordsworth.
The poem The Leech-Gatherer has an alternative title, Resolution And Independence which is apt. When Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Mary Shelley, according to a story, decided to write one model horror creation each, Coleridge wrote ‘The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner’ which became an instant horror classic. Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein which still terrorizes the world. Wordsworth who was inept in such matters wrote The Stolen Boat which made no one horrified. The Leech-Gatherer was his supplement to this sequel which fulfilled its mission by creating a new sophistication in horror. It is one of the immortal creations of Wordsworth and can be spotted so among the hundreds of inferior poems he created during his poetic career. It has been a universal question, whether the world will provide for us in our old age. The Leech-Gatherer is the answer to this age-old question.
Appearance of exquisite nature pictures in poetry pages, after Edmund Spenser.


Dove Cottage in Grasmere. Once home to Wordsworth.
The poem opens with presentation of a series of beautiful nature pictures, second only to Edmund Spenser in his The Fairee Queene. After the heavy rain and storm of yester night, the Sun is rising calm and bright as if nothing had happened the day before. The atmosphere is such still and silent that sweet sounds of birds singing in the distant woods can be heard as distinctly as if they are very near. The voices of Stock-Dove, Magpie and Jay mixed with the pleasant noise of waters flowing everywhere fills the atmosphere. All the Sun-loving creatures are out of doors, i.e., out of their caves and dens, and the simple grass is shining bright with the rain drops adorning them. Unable to hide her mirth, the hare is running races in the morning air on the moor, just like frivolous and playful kitten. Wherever she touches her feet, tiny water particles splashes up rising like mist from the splashy earth, glittering in the Sun, forming beautiful rainbow-glows about her tiny feet. The poet can feel the very pulse-beat of Nature since he is personally present there.
As light and happy as a lark.

Grasmere Village with Dove Cottage.
 'He was then a morning traveller upon that moor. He was as happy as a boy that he sometimes heard and sometimes heard not the roaring sounds of the great woods and waterfalls around him.' Now he has quite forgotten how sad he was moments earlier and would be, moments after. He has reached the peak of happiness if there is one, forgetting all his pangs and past memories and that sad, useless melancholic mood common and so natural to man.
Premonitions of a lonely traveller on the moor.

Waterfall and Stone Hut where the poet wrote poems.
When we are happy, we begin to think that our happiness won't end. And when we are sad, we begin to feel anxious about whether our sadness won't end some day. Happiness and sadness are but waves in the sea of thoughtfulness which recede to the same still broadness. It is only natural for man to fall from the height of happiness to the depth of dejection. This happens to the poet also in that fine morning.
Clouds coming thick into the serene mind of a poet.


'He was a traveller then upon the moor'

Fears and fancies come thick into his mind, like clouds coming ominously into a serene sky. In the midst and presence of such blissful creatures as the warbling sky lark and the playful hare, he feels himself to be walking away far from the world and all earthly cares. His whole life he has lived in pleasant thoughts as if life's business were a summer dream. His poetry-writing career had not brought him enough to buy even his shoe-strings. Many mighty poets have returned to earth in their misery, suffering fleshly ills such as cold, pain and heavy labour. Would he too die the same way? Would solitude, distress, pain of heart, and poverty be awaiting him too, to accompany him to his grave? Is it not so that the tragic career of all poets, as a rule, begins in gladness and ends in sadness and gloom? The marvelous village Milton that was Chatterton, who had walked in glory and in joy along his native mountain side following his plough, had perished in poverty, but with pride. But why are these ominous thoughts occurring to him at these untoward moments? The goose-bumps springing up all through his body struck in that lonely and desolate moor told him that Nature is soon going to present him with some sign of divine warning to admonish him about the preciousness and rarity of Time. Then he saw it- the warning, placed there on the wild for all the world to see.
The warning written on the lonely moor, beside the pool.

Sudden appearance of the ghost of a man was here.
A very old man, perhaps the oldest man that ever wore grey hairs, appeared suddenly beside a pool in that wild, the oldest person the poet ever saw in this world. He never fitted in with those lonely wild surroundings. Such an extremely old man in such strangest of circumstances was odd and out of place. Nature does startle man with her bizarre and striking spectacles. 'Sometimes huge stones can be seen lying couched on tree-less bald mountain tops, causing wonder to all who look at them.' One will begin to think whether or not they are gifted with an unnatural ability to walk up the mountain eminence and lie couching there, precariously balanced. Another equally tantalizing spectacle is from the sea shore, that of 'some huge sea-beast crawled forth and reposing on some shelf of rock or sand to sun itself.' Such bizarre and out of place seemed the appearance and look of that old man in such strange surroundings. Some wild experience of disease or pain had caused his body to bend unnaturally double, making his feet and head come close together, in life's pilgrimage. One will wonder how he can make himself still stand erect in that nature-tortured frame. He propped his body upon a long grey staff of shaven wood. 'Upon the margin of that pool, he stood there as motionless as a firm cloud that moveth not in the wind, and if it moves at all, moves all together.' Not anywhere else in world literature has the uncanny appearance of old age ever been pictured more movingly.
Will the world look after us when we are old?
 

Gardens landscaped by the poet in Rydal Mount.
The old man was stirring the pond with his staff and studying the muddy water. Wordsworth very much wished to ask the old man what his occupation was there. He asked and the old man answered in an uncommon, lofty, decorated language. He was simply catching leeches from the pool. Enduring many hardships on the way, he had come to the pool to gather leeches for food and for sale. He has resolved to be independent and self-reliant in his old age. He roamed from pool to pool and from moor to moor gaining his legitimate living. He 'gained an honest maintenance and got housing by chance or choice each day through God's help.'
Was it real, or a vision of admonition from eternity?

The old man's words burnt deep into the lazy poet's heart. He wondered whether he hadn't seen this person somewhere in his dreams. Yes, this is the eternal Time Man, The Kaala Purusha, walking through ages, 'sent from some far off region to strengthen the poet by apt admonition.' The lonely place, the old man's shape and speech- all troubled him and for a while, he lost his senses. However, when he regained his consciousness, he was a completely changed new man, like the wedding- guest in ‘The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner’. The poet resolved to think about the leech-gatherer on the lonely moor, in future whenever his mind lost its strength. Thus the alternate title for the poem, ‘Resolution And Independence’ is very appropriate. The element of horror in the poem owes it's thanks to the poet's friend Coleridge. The plainness of the poem is derived from Burns. The genuine contribution of Wordsworth in the poem is the unique moral treatment of the Man and Nature theme.

Note:

There is a jungle beauty spot with a broad, step waterfall in Meenmutty in Nanniyode Village in the Trivandrum District of Kerala. Mighty mountains surround it. I was a regular visitor to this place where I would wash my apparels, bathe in the torrent and lie on the rocks. On the distant mountain folds can be seen often an old man coming down, appearing and disappearing according to the nip and fall in the terrain. Finally he would reach the river bank and take a dip beside me in the torrent. Unlike the other natives, we were the two who preferred bathing above the waterfall to rather than descending to the safety of the lower tranquil part of the river. We both liked taking the risk of being swept away down by a flash flood that may originate from the proximity to the mountains. Then he would take his bait and catch one or two fishes for his dinner. Then he would rise and taking the fishes, the firewood, grass bundles for his goats, two killed birds and a hare, all gathered from the mountains, walk down through the rocks towards his home. Whenever he appeared on the river bank in the evenings, a water crow, the blackest and the ugliest I ever saw, also appeared and sat beside him on a rock amid the stream, hoping for a fish from his catch which it invariably got. I knew this old man was severe and strict to his children, wife and others, but his ragged and weather-beaten frame and his uncouth behavior was an attraction to me, a fascination. He in my eyes was a genuine unpolished creation of nature, independent and resolute in his old age.


One day news came that he was bitten by a deadly snake in the mountains and was lying in critical stage in a hospital. Many times it was rumoured that he has gone, and that it was good to his family. The water crow sat there on the rock amid the torrent each day. It was the first time I prayed Lord Shiva to perform a miracle and do not withdraw this creation from the village too soon. Anyway the Lord has an adornment of a magnificent snake around his neck. After days of lying unconscious the man was brought back to life, to the disappointment of many. In the distant mountain folds the head can still be seen rising up and down as he comes down to the river carrying his catch. The water crow still sits there on the rock in the stream and gets its snacks.



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Pictures Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
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Tags
Book Appreciations, English Literature, English Songs, Poetry, P S Remesh Chandran, Resolution And Independence, Reviews, Sahyadri Books And Bloom Books Trivandrum, The Leech-Gatherer, William Wordsworth

Meet the author
PSRemeshChandra

Editor of Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum. Author of several books in English and in Malayalam. And also author of Swan: The Intelligent Picture Book.






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