The Solitary Reaper Summary and Analysis
By William Wordsworth
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.
“The Solitary Reaper” is one of Wordsworth’s most famous post-Lyrical Ballads lyrics. The words of the reaper’s song are incomprehensible to the speaker, so his attention is free to focus on the tone, expressive beauty and the blissful mood it creates in him. The poem functions to “praise the beauty of music and its fluid expressive beauty”, the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility” that Wordsworth identified at the heart of poetry. The poet orders or requests his listeners to behold a young maiden reaping and singing to herself. The poet says that anyone passing by should either stop or gently pass as not to disturb her. There is a controversy however over the importance of the reaper along with Nature. It was published in Poems, in Two Volumes in 1807.(wiki)
Romantic Movement in English literature at the end of 18th century. Wordsworth met Samuel Taylor Coleridge (a romantic poet) and together worked on Lyrical Ballads (1798). The volume contained poems such as Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey,” and helped Romanticism take hold in English poetry. He became England’s poet laureate in 1843, a role he held until his death in 1850.
“The Solitary Reaper” is a lyric by English Romantic poet William Wordsworth, and one of his best-known works. The poem was inspired by him and his sister Dorothy’s stay at the village of Strathyre in the parish of Balquhidder in Scotland in September 1803.
Analysis of the poem The Solitary Reaper
“The Solitary Reaper” is the poet’s response to a Highland lass who harvests alone in the field singing a melancholic song to herself. The poet is strongly moved but he does not say why he is moved.In the first stanza the speaker comes across a beautiful girl alone in the fields. She is “Reaping and singing by herself”. Usually reaping is a communal and joyful activity but here the girl is reaping lone. This loneliness in reaping is mysterious so it makes him think about mystery in life. He tells the reader not to interrupt her and then mentions that the valley is full of song.
This stanza also portrays the predominant theme in romantic poetry; loneliness. During the aftermath of industrial revolution people lost communal life as a result they were alienated. Nature acts as a solace for this loneliness. Here both the woman as well as the traveller is alone. Women always have a symbolic significance in Wordsworth’s poems as they stand for love and associated with nature.
In the second stanza he compares a list of beautiful things that cannot be equal to the singing of the girl. He brings in a list of images which represent the beauty of nature, he compares her song with the song of nightingale, singing of the cuckoo in spring and song that delights weary travellers in Arabia. In the third stanza the speaker admits that though he can listen to the song he cannot understand what she sings, therefore he could only guess what she might have been singing. In the final stanza he says despite his ability to understand song, the song was pleasing to the ears and it remains in his heart forever. (Marzooq, 2014).
As mentioned earlier, romantic poetry captures the life of ordinary and marginalized people. In this poem he talks about a reaping woman who belongs to lower class. He pours out his individual feelings about the singing of the woman. Forromantics individual pleasure is more important than satisfying society. He enjoys the song and isemotionally moved by the music though he cannot understand what she sings. It is in ballad form which appreciates the beauty and companionship of nature. Also it is a testimony to the poet’s imagination and the power of human mind; memory.
The Solitary Reaper Themes
- The power of human mind.
- Beneficial influence of nature.
- Form-Literary ballad written in first person and can be classified as pastoral-a literary work describing a scene from country life.
- Metaphor-the singing of the reaper is compared to the singingof cuckoo and nightingale.
- Visual imagery-“Reaping and singing by herself;”“I mounted up the hill,”
- Auditory imagery-“Alone she cuts and binds the grain, And sings a melancholy strain;”
- Alliteration-“Sings a melancholy strain”“No Nightingale”
- Assonance-O listen! for the Vale profound Is overflowing with.