The Solitary Reaper By: William Wordsworth
Romanticism • Reaction to French Revolution and its failure to achieve high ideals • Reaction to Industrialization and Urbanization • Reaction to Enlightenment and 18th C aristocratic values • Reaction to materialism of the age • Shift from power of reasoning to power of emotions
romanticim • Shift from urban life to the country life as main theme in literary works • Rustic and natural scene preferred to the glamour of the city life • Simple diction is preferred over flowery and stylized language • Individual and his feelings more important than the society
romanticism • Imagination, recollection, nature & supernaturalism, Hellenism - become important themes • Struggle between the outer and the inner worlds, imaginary and the real is highlighted • Loneliness, melancholy, rebelliousness, isolation are expressed through poetic works
About the poem • The poem was written on Nov 5, 1805 and published in 1807 in Poems in Two Volumes. • it is written in four stanzas of eight lines each. • most of it is in iambic tetrameter – four unstressed and four stressed syllables in a line. • the rhyme scheme is sometimes abcbddee or ababccdd.
the poem is based on someone else’s experience • Wordsworth was inspired by a passage written by Thomas Wilkinson, a traveler, during his tours in the book ‘Tours to the British Mountains’ • The passage that inspired Wordsworth is as follows: ‘Passed a female who was reaping alone: she sung in Erse (the Gealic language of Scotland) as she bended over her sickle; the sweetest human voice I ever heard: her strains were tenderly melancholy, and felt delicious, long after they were heard no more’ (as quoted in The Norton Anthology English Literature).
Summary of the poem • The poem is written in the first person • It can be classified as pastoral, describing a scene from the country life. • Poem is dominated by one central figure, a highland girl working alone in the fields harvesting grain, and singing melancholic song. The poet cannot understand her but is mesmerized by the beauty of it all. He moves away from the scene but the impact and memory of the scene stay with him. • The central ideas is how deep melancholy projects feelings of joy and happiness.
The poem begins from an outsider perspective (Wordsworth) and moves to the insider perspective (the girl) and back to Wordsworth again • Relationships are established in the poem between • the poet and the reader • the poet and the girl • the reader and the girl • The poem is an effort to recreate the whole scene in which the maiden is the centre of the Natural world
It is a description of the blissful mood that the song of the maiden creates in Wordsworth • At the heart of the poem is Wordsworth’s definition of poetry as the ‘spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings’ and ‘emotions recollected in tranquility’. • He emphasizes his poetic values through the poem by creating this beautiful scene in the rustic, natural setting and by choosing a simple, rustic girl. • The language of the poem is natural and simple
Detailed analysis of the poem Behold her, single in the field, Yon solitary Highland Lass! The beautiful girl is working alone in the cotton fields of Scotland (the Highland) ‘Lass’ is a maiden, a young girl ‘yon’ is from yonder, or that one
Reaping and singing by herself; Stop here, or gently pass! ‘Reaping’ is to cut grain for harvest with scythe, sickle or reaper Poet describes her movements and actions: she is reaping and singing at the same time But she sings for no one in particular Her movements are fluid like and gentle – she is oblivious of her surroundings and only engrossed in her own work. Her loneliness is emphasized, through repetition of words, also in the title. Poet urges not to disturb her in her work and singing. He suggests that one should either watch her or gently pass from the scene.
Alone she cuts and binds the grain, And sings a melancholy strain; ‘Grain’ is the fruit of cereal grass ‘melancholy’ means sad ‘Strain’ is the tone or the tune For the fourth time the sense of loneliness is attached to the whole scene; it gives the impression that the girl is removed from our world In these lines her next chores are mentioned: she has cut the grain and is now binding the grain
O listen! for the Vale profound Is overflowing with the sound. ‘Valle profound’ is the deep valley ‘overflowing’ means reverberating or resounding Wordsworth now changes his stance: first she was only singing to herself but now the whole valley listens to her and is filled by her sweet song. There is a sense of joy and respect for the girl and her song in Wordsworth’s remark, ‘O listen!’
Second Stanza No Nightingale did ever chaunt More welcome notes to weary bands Of travellers in some shady haunt, Among Arabian sands: ‘chaunt’ is a simple melody, a song sung repeatedly ‘notes’ musical notes, song ‘weary bands’ are tired travelers ‘shady haunt’is like an oasis in the desert, a paradise for travelers of deserts with date trees, water and birds.
Second Stanza Wordsworth compares the girl’s song and its musical quality with that of Nightingale’s song He feels that the maiden’s song even surpasses the song of the Nightingale as it is heard in the Arabian deserts by the tired traveler. Nightingale bird is so called because it sings at night as well as during the day; it means ‘night songstress.’ The bird is famous for its song; its song is loud and louder when in urban environments, inorder to overcome the background noise.
Second Stanza The Nightingale bird has been an important symbol for poets for ages: Homer evokes the Nightingale in the Odyssey and refers to the classical myth of Philomela who is turned into Nightingale after avenging her rapist (her sister’s husband) . several Middle English period poets including Chaucer and Gower have used the bird’s song to depict a sorrowful lament.
Second Stanza During Romantic era, the bird acted as the Muse inspiring poets in their acts of creation, “master of a superior art that could inspire the human poet.” For Wordsworth, the bird is a the voice of nature For Keats & Shelley, the bird is an idealized poet Shelley wrote in his “Defense of Poetry:” “A poet is a nightingale who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds;”
Second Stanza 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. ‘thrilling’ means causing intense excitement & pleasure ‘Cuckoo-bird’ is a solitary bird that seldom occurs in pairs; generally known as shy bird, more often heard than seen.
Second Stanza Cuckoo’s call in Europe is regarded as the first harbinger of spring. ‘hebrides’ are the farthest islands off the mainland Scotland In these lines, Wordsworth is comparing the song of the Scottish maiden to the song of Cuckoo bird breaking the silence of the sea in the Hebrides The song of the cuckoo bird is associated with the return of life, vitality and spring after the harsh winters.
Third stanza Will no one tell me what she sings? Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow For old, unhappy, far-off things, And battles long ago: ‘Plaintive numbers’ refer to the sad music of the song Wordsworth here wants to know the content of the song she is singing.
He makes guesses as he can’t understand the language She may be singing about ‘old’, ‘unhappy’, ‘far-off things’ or old ‘battles’ Her song is not about the is not a happy, love song – the music gives Wordsworth the ideas
Third Stanza Or is it some more humblelay, Familiar matter of to-day? Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain, That has been, and may be again? ‘humble lay’ sad song Wordsworth wonders again what the song may be about, and connects the past, present and the future. Emphasis is again on pain and loss.
Fourth Stanza 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;-- ‘sickel’ is an instrument to cut grass, a curved blade Wordsworth emphasizes the beauty of the song and its power to lure – the song appears not to have an ending.
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. Wordsworth describes two effects of the song on him: • He stood ‘motionless and still’ – entranced by the beauty of it • He moved away but carried it in his heart
The scene is described both in the present moment and in the form of memory Both have pleasant effect on the poet Important Themes • Recollection and role of memory in creation of art • Close association with nature – nature as source of serenity and peace • Simplicity and purity of rustic life – not burdened with miseries of urban industrialized life
General Analysis • The language of the poem is simple and close to language of ‘common people’ • The setting of the poem is rustic and emphasis is on the girl’s isolation from the world