The Solitary Reaper — by William Wordsworth

The Solitary Reaper
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.

Meaning … The setting is some farming field in Scotland which is ripe for harvest. A lonely maiden is busy reaping the crop. She enjoys her work. Neither the hard work, nor the solitude of the surroundings make a dent on her carefree mind. She sings a melodious song that rings with a certain degree of pensiveness. The sweet sound of her song reverberates around the vast valley. The author, an avid lover of Nature, happens to pass by the fields. He is at once swayed by the melody, exuberance, and pathos of the maid’s voice. He is so enchanted with her song that he wants to just stand still. He does not want to distract her in any way that could result in her stopping to sing. Even, he advises any other passer-by to stop there, or walk unobtrusively so as to let the lass continue her singing with zest and passion.


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.

Meaning … The author heaps praise on the singing damsel profusely. He feels her voice was better than the legendary singing bird Nightangle. He feels her voice would have soothed the frayed nerves of Arabian cross-country tired of their arduous trek. Drawing another comparison, the author says the Cuckoo’s Spring-time singing would fail to match the sweet mesmeric charm of the young woman’s voice. So profound was the spell of her sweet voice that the author feels the sound must be reaching the far-flung shores of the Hebrides – a group of remote islands lying off Scotland. Even the roar of the sea’s water can not dampen her voice.


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?

Meaning ….. The words of the maid’s song melt away in the air. The author is unable to decipher each of the words, but. The voice is unmistakably mournful. The author imagines that the girl is lost in some past sorrows lying deep in her heart. Scotland, in those days was ravaged by frequent wars and bloodshed. The girl is, perhaps, reminiscing about some unhappy memories of those savage battles that have scarred her mind. The author is clueless as to what makes the song so doleful. It could be that the singer is wary of some unhappy thing that could happen soon, or has occurred recently.


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.

Meaning … The maiden’s soulful song, no matter its not-so-clear content, leaves the author spell-bound. It is a musical feast to his ears that remains etched in his mind. As he continues to climb the mountain, he keeps his ears tuned to the song, enjoying its every bit. It is unique how the maiden, engrossed in her mundane work in the field, sings such soul-stirring melody. For all times to come, the author will remember this unforgettable experience in so ordinary a place – thanks to the village farm girl.

[Questions and answers will be posted soon.]


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