“Resolution and Independence” is certainly one of Wordsworth’s stranger poems, one in which he sees an old leech-gathering man as an unlikely oracle. For a “gentleman” such as Wordsworth it must indeed be a rare thing to see a working class man reduced to such drudgery, but is his poem merely an aristocratic fantasy, a comfort that conceals real conditions of exploitation? It is not as simple and vulgar as that, though one would certainly be tempted to say so, due to Wordsworth’s tribute to the hard and “noble” life of the old gatherer. The question that haunts the text is whether it is a product of a man whose social views are outraged by the hardships of such working class men or promoting a conservative ideology based on the supposed moral “value” of hard work.
Unfortunately, I am tempted to say the latter, since though Wordsworth was not necessarily born into privilege, his silver-tongued language betrays the silver spoon in his mouth. He views personal and individual “resolution” as the solution to a lack of “independence” in choice of profession. There is certainly nothing wrong with the old man’s role as a producer being upheld as greater than any holy oracle, but to uphold the conditions of his exploitation as either “resolution” or “independence” is highly questionable. We may be witnessing a sign of the transition from the younger, more radical Wordsworth into the older, more conservative version.