The Solitary Reaper by William Wordsworth, Full Summary & Analysis
by Mohamed Zayed, a Linguist
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.
This poem is called “The Solitary Reaper”. It is a lyrical ballad written by William Wordsworth. It consists of 32 lines and is divided into four stanzas. In it, Wordsworth establishes himself as a highly romantic poet and lover of nature. The poem is dominated by one figure, a girl standing alone in a field while harvesting grain. It is a description of a lovely scene in the countryside. Wordsworth is taking the role of the speaker of the poem.
This is a lyrical ballad that consists of four stanzas. Each stanza consists of 8 lines. The Solitary Reaper is a classic example of iambic tetrameter. As for the rhyme scheme, each stanza has the rhyme scheme: ABABCCDD, where the first four lines have the rhyme scheme (ABAB), and the last four are rhymed couplets.
“The Solitary Reaper” begins with the speaker asking the reader to “behold” the girl as she works in the field. The first stanza is a straightforward description of the scene. The girl is standing alone in the field, cutting grain, and singing a “melancholy strain.” Wordsworth emphasizes the girl’s solitude by using words such as “single,” “solitary,” “by herself,” and “alone.” Solitaries are common figures in Wordsworth’s poetry and are usually surrounded by a natural environment. The act of reaping alone in the field binds the girl intimately to the earth. Also, as the girl sings and the melody fills the lonely valley, she becomes almost completely merged with nature.
The next two stanzas describe the speaker’s reaction to the maiden’s song. The words of the song are in a language unknown to him, but he remains transfixed by the melody, which seems to stretch the limits of time and space. He associates the sweetness of the reaper’s song with the beautiful cries of the nightingale and the cuckoo, both familiar images of transcendence in Romantic poetry. As he allows the song to engulf his consciousness, he envisions far-off places and times of long ago. His imagination transports him from the field in which he stands to the edge of infinity.
In the fourth stanza, the speaker shifts his attention from his musings to the scene before him. He continues to listen, but the transcendent moment is past. He again calls attention to the reaper, who is unaware of the speaker’s presence or the effect her song has had on him. As the speaker walks away from the field, the song fades from his hearing, but its plaintive melody echoes in his heart and his imagination.
Music is a dominant image in the poem. It is reinforced by the ballad form whose tones, rhythms, and rhymes emphasize the lyrical feeling. The musical image is further highlighted by the use of alliteration. The repetition of s sounds, which are traced throughout the poem, lends a tonal unity to the piece. For example, in the first four lines of the first stanza, fourteen words contain s.
As for images, it can be noticed that the poem is rich in a variety of images: visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic. For example, the words “single”, “Lass”, “cuts and binds”, etc. represent visual images where we can see the girl and the things she is doing in the field. Also, there are auditory images as in “singing”, “sound”, “Nightingale”, “silence”, “sang”, etc. As for kinaesthetic images, they include “reaping”, “pass”, “cuts”, “binds”, etc. which conveys the dynamicity and sense of movement of the girl. All these images give the poem a much more vivid and lively atmosphere that make the reader not only see the ideas of the poet but also feel them. In his images, Wordsworth omits the thin line between imagination and reality.
As for figures of speech, apostrophe is found. Apostrophe is a figure of speech where the speaker of the poem addresses a dead or absent person, or an inanimate object. At the beginning of the poem the speaker invites the reader to “Behold, her single in the field,/ Yon solitary Highland Lass!” He further cautions the reader to “Stop here, or gently pass!” although the reader is not present.
As for metaphors, there is one extended metaphor throughout the poem concerning the girl reaper. Wordsworth, for example, in the second stanza compares the song of the reaper to those of the nightingale and cuckoo. The bird-songs and the girl’s song are thus intertwined, which is a link of the maiden to nature. Also, there is a metaphor in “breaking the silence of the seas” in which Wordsworth likens the silence of the sea to something that can be broken. Also, there is a very suggestive metaphor found in the last line of the first stanza in “overflowing” in which the poet compares the sound or the songs of the girl in the field to a sea wave that is overflowing. These metaphors express the joy of the poet and the pleasantness of the songs of the girl as she reaps the grain. Also, there is symbolism in the poem. For example, the girl as well as the nightingale is symbols of the beauty of Mother Nature. “Arabian Sands” is another symbol that expresses distance and time. The “seas” is a symbol of silence and darkness.
In conclusion, Wordsworth has managed to convey his feeling, emotions and deep love of nature through the employment of the high musicality of the poem with a wonderful, suggestive combination of images and figures of speech. All of these elements make the reader not only get the full picture but also feel, enjoy and live the whole scene in a state of tranquility just like the poet himself.