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.

XIII

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.

XV

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.

XVII

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? "

XVIII

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. "

XIX

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.

XX

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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