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The Solitary Reaper – William Wordsworth

Special Notes

  • The Solitary Reaper is a poem by William Wordsworth.
  • The poem may appear to be a simple incident around a lonely girl who was reaping (cutting and binding) grains in the field with her sickle (a curved knife) and singing melodiously for her pleasure.
  • The poet was greatly attracted to her singing and stood there till evening and then saw that he had stayed there for very long.
  • Unwillingly he left the roadside and continued his journey. Though he could hear her songs echoing in his mind, he could no longer hear it after some time.
  • The inner meaning of this poem is deep and vast.
  • The poet’s journey is human life. The journey is up the mountains.
  • On the way we pass many people and stop at attractions on all the sides. The poet fell in love with the girl’s songs.
  • He cannot resist his curiosity for the meaning of the songs.
  • Likewise, in our eventful life, we come across many and fall in love with people, places and much more.
  • The poet wanted to know the meaning of the song just as we want to know the meaning of all the worldly and heavenly phenomena.

Analysis

Behold her, single in the field,
Yon solitary Highland Lass!
Reaping and singing by herself;
Stop here, or gently pass!

Meaning

  • Behold – Look
  • Yon – Over there!
  • Solitary – Lonely
  • Lass – Girl
  • Singing by herself – Singing for herself

Questions & Answers

  1. Where is the poet standing? Why does he stop there?
    The poet is standing at the roadside, on the way to some hillside part of Scotland. He stops at the roadside to listen to the melodious song of the lonely girl who was harvesting and singing to herself.
  2. What was so extraordinary about the solitary reaper that the poet could not move away from her for a long time?
    The solitary reaper’s songs were very melodious though they were melancholic. Though her song attracted the poet and brought him to a standstill, yet it didn’t reveal to him its meaning. Due to these mesmerizing qualities, the solitary reaper’s song was extraordinary.
  3. Whom is the poet asking to stop or gently pass?
    The poet asks the passersby to stop or gently pass because he didn’t want the reaper’s song interrupted by any one.
  4. Why does the poet ask the passersby to pass gently?

Alone she cuts and binds the grain,
And sings a melancholy strain;
O listen! for the Vale profound
Is overflowing with the sound.

Meaning

  • Melancholy – Sad
  • Strain – Song
  • Vale – Valley
  • Profound – Deep

Questions & Answers

  1. What is the effect of the solitary reaper’s singing on the valley?
    The solitary reaper’s singing reaches every corner of the deep valley and the valley overflows with her singing.
  2. How does the solitary reaper’s singing appear to the poet?
    The solitary reaper’s singing appears to be a sad song to the poet.
  3. How does the poet know that the maiden’s song is a melancholy strain?
  4. What is the maiden doing in the field?
  5. Why does the poet exclaim, ‘O, listen?’

No Nightingale did ever chant
More welcome notes to weary bands
Of travelers in some shady haunt,
Among Arabian sands:

Meaning

  • Chant – Sing
  • Welcome notes – Luring song
  • Weary – Tired
  • Band – Group
  • Among – In the midst of
  • Arabian sands – Deserts

Questions & Answers

  1. No nightingale did ever chant. What?
    No nightingale did ever sing a song as beautiful, as overflowing, as welcoming, as soothing as that of the solitary reaper’s song.
  2. What does welcome note refer to? Who sings the welcome note here?
    Welcome notes refers to a welcoming, soothing and life giving song. It is the nightingale that sings the welcome song.
  3. What do you mean by ‘weary bands of travelers?
  4. Why does a nightingale’s song appear to be ‘welcome notes’ to weary bands of travelers?

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.

Meaning

  • Ne’er – Never
  • Hebrides – A group of islands North West of Scotland

Questions & Answers

  1. What are Hebrides? What disturb its silence?
    Hebrides are a group of scattered islands on the north-west of Scotland. The song of the cuckoo disturbs its silence.
  2. What does the poet intend to do by talking about the nightingale and the cuckoo bird?
    The poet describes the beauty and effect of the songs of the nightingale and cuckoo only to place the solitary reaper’s more beautiful song on the top. With that he brings out the desired effect and the girl’s song is staggeringly praised.

“Will no one tell me what she sings?”
Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow
For old, unhappy, far-off things,
And battles long ago:

Meaning

  • Plaintive – Sad
  • Numbers – Songs

Questions & Answers

  1. What is the poet’s request to the passers by? Why?
    The poet’s request to the passers-by is to tell him the meaning of the reaper’s songs because he was a foreign traveler so he didn’t know the language spoken there.
  2. Did anyone give the poet a reply? What makes you think so?
    No, no one gave the poet a reply. This becomes evident from the fact that the poet has got no clear answer. Moreover, the poet is attempting to make his own answers to his question. He assumes that the girl’s songs could be some ordinary ones with messages and laments for her dear departed ones, for the battles fought long ago, about the blood shed in that very field, etc.

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?

Meaning

  • Humble lay – Ordinary songs

Questions & Answers

  1. What does ‘humble lay’ mean?
    Humble lay refers to an ordinary, often sung, familiar song.
  2. Why does the poet think that the girl’s song had a sad note rather than a happy one?
    The poet couldn’t follow the girl’s song line by line yet the slow melody and her loneliness led the poet to thinking that she was singing a sad song.
  3. The poet was left with no way to learn the meaning of the girl’s songs and then he made his own inferences: what were they?
    The poet reached an understanding that the girl’s songs were reflecting certain unhappy events in her life, maybe war, maybe death of her dear ones, maybe some ordinary songs of that time.

Whatever 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;–

Meaning

  • Maiden – Girl
  • Sickle – The curved knife to reap

Questions & Answers

  1. What was the specialty of the maiden’s song?
    The maiden’s song was one that appeared to have no ending.
  2. Who was bending over the sickle? What was she doing with the sickle?
    The solitary girl was bending over the sickle. She was harvesting with the sickle.

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.

Meaning

  • Mounted – Ascended/climbed
  • Bore – Carried

Questions & Answers

  1. Why did the poet mount up the hill?
    The poet mounted up the hill because he had been getting late and his journey was not over. His destination was somewhere on the summit of the hill or beyond that. He had stopped at the roadside because he had been mesmerized by the girl’s song.
  2. Which music did the poet bear in his heart? Why?
    The poet bore the song of the solitary reaper. He bore the music of the girl because it had left a deep impression on him. It was so mesmerizing that he could not forget the music of the song easily. Music had got etched on his memory.
  3. How does the poet bring out the element of life and death in the poem?
  4. The first line of the stanza indicates death and the second indicates life after death. How?
    The poet is playing with words most beautifully by presenting death using the words ‘motionless’ and ‘still.’ A dead body is motionless/still. Secondly, his ‘mounting up the hill’ indicates the eternal journey to the eternal world, the final abode of every human being.
  5. If the first line indicates death and the second the life to the great beyond, what do third and fourth indicate?
    Death marks the end of one’s life on earth. It is a pass-over to the final destination of everyone born on the earth. When one moves from the earth to that unknown world, all the memories – sad and happy ones – get erased from our memory. When it happens, we forget all the worldly memories and become part of the other world.
  6. It is believed that there is a life after death. Once we pass away from this earthly life, we get a new identity in the other world, the world of souls. The poem says that we forget everything about our earthly life once we have gone from here. Which line indicates this?

What do you think?

The Moon – Eliza Keary

Factual Description – Descriptive Writing