Now, whether it were by peculiar grace

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.


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.


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.


My former thoughts returned: the fear that kills;
And hope that is unwilling to be fed;
Cold, pain, and labour, and all fleshly ills;
And nightly poets in their misery dead.
Perplexed, and longing to be comforted,
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 pools 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 seemed to see him pace
About the heavy 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,
Cheerfully uttered, with demeanour kind,
But stately in the main; and when he ended,
I could have laughed 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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