THE SOLITARY REAPER BY WILLIAM WORDSWORTH
Updated: Nov 29, 2020
“The Solitary Reaper” is a poem written by William Wordsworth which was published in 1807 in Poems, in Two Volumes. The travel memoir with Dorothy Wordsworth about a six-week, 663 miles journey through the Scottish highlands from August to September in 1803, inspired both brother and sister to write more works. This poem which was considered to be one of the bests was inspired by this stay at the village of Strathyre in Scotland. It was written in iambic tetrameter which follows a rhyme scheme of ABABCCDD. This poem is all about a song which was sung by a girl while reaping in a field. The rhythm of the song sounds high in poet’s head even-though he didn’t understand what the girl is singing about.
Behold her, single in the field,
Yon solitary Highland Lass!
Reaping and singing by herself;
Stop here, or gently pass!
Alone she cuts and binds the grain,
And sings a melancholy strain;
O listen! for the Vale profound
Is overflowing with the sound.
No Nightingale did ever chaunt
More welcome notes to weary bands
Of travellers in some shady haunt,
Among Arabian sands:
A voice so thrilling ne'er was heard
In spring-time from the Cuckoo-bird,
Breaking the silence of the seas
Among the farthest Hebrides.
Will no one tell me what she sings?—
Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow
For old, unhappy, far-off things,
And battles long ago:
Or is it some more humble lay,
Familiar matter of to-day?
Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain,
That has been, and may be again?
Whate'er the theme, the Maiden sang
As if her song could have no ending;
I saw her singing at her work,
And o'er the sickle bending;—
I listened, motionless and still;
And, as I mounted up the hill,
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more.
In the first stanza, the poet asks to see the girl who cuts the crops with a sickle in the field alone. ‘Yon’ means ‘that’, here he describes that girl as “solitary Highland Lass” (lonely girl from the mountain) who is singing by herself while reaping the grains. He says us to whether stop and listen to her or kindly move past. As a lonely girl she does all her works like cutting and binding the grains and sings a sad melody. The poet requests everyone to listen that the whole valley is overflowing with her song.
In the second stanza, he compares this Scottish girl's song with the warbling nightingale and says even that didn’t recite more subdue song to embark the worn out travellers, who are rested at an oasis in the Arabian Desert. A voice with such soothing and exciting tone was never heard before. Even the Cuckoo bird that sings at spring time with such an evoking tone which “Breaking the silence of the seas” among the farthest corner of isle of Hebrides never equals her song.
In third stanza, the poet expresses his agony of not knowing what she sings “Will no one tell me what she sings?”. In uncertain tone, he says that “Plaintive number” which means ‘sad songs with melancholic tone’ that flows as a voice of old tragedies afar and early battle happened long ago. On the contrary, may be the song is in plebeian tone about everyday happenings like natural sorrow, loss or pain that everyone holds out in their life.
In the final stanza, he says that he don't know what the song is about but he is sure there would be no end for it. He sees her singing while she is working by bending over to sickle the crops out. He listens to her song standing still and as he walks wayfaring up the hill, he carries her melancholic music in his heart even-after it is not heard anymore from anywhere.