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
About the poem:
"The Solitary Reaper" is a ballad by English Romantic poet William Wordsworth, and one of his best-known works in English literature. In it, Wordsworth describes in the first person, present tense, how he is amazed and moved by a Scottish Highlands girl who sings as she reaps grain in a solitary field. Composed in 1805, the poem was first published in Poems, in Two Volumes (1807). Each of its four stanzas is eight lines long and written in iambic tetrameter, with a rhyme scheme of a-b-a-b-c-c-d-d, though in the first and last stanzas the "A" rhyme is off.
'"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 feeling" that Wordsworth identified at the heart of poetry
Structure & Synopsis:
"The Solitary Reaper" begins with the speaker instructing us to look upon "Yon solitary Highland Lass" who is "Reaping and singing by herself". Thrilled by her song, the speaker compares the girl to a nightingale whose "melancholy strain" welcomes "weary bands / Of travellers" to "some shady haunt, / Among Arabian sands". Yet he does not understand the words of her song (presumably they are in the Scottish Gaelic language), and impatiently cries, "Will no one tell me what she sings?" He wonders if the subject is of "battles long ago" or of commonplace and universal things ("familiar matters of to-day"), perhaps "some natural sorrow, loss, or pain."
Then he dismisses his own musings -- "Whate'ver the theme," he says, "the Maiden sang / As if her song could have no ending" -and refocuses his attention on the song. He listens, "motionless and still", before finally mounting the hill and leaving the solitary reaper, still singing, behind. Though his ears cannot hear the song anymore, the sound of the Highland Lass's music will forever be a fresh and evocative memory in his heart.
Wordsworth, his sister Dorothy, and his friend and fellow poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge had visited the Scottish Highlands in 1803. According to Dorothy's diary, solitary reapers were not an uncommon sight. And in a note to the 1807 edition, Wordsworth acknowledged his indebtedness to his friend Thomas Wilkinson's manuscript from a tour of Scotland.
Some other popular poems of William Wordsworth:
- The Sonnet