(Poem #82) The Solitary Reaper
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.
(from Memorials of a Tour in Scotland, 1803) Like many of Wordsworth's best and most memorable poems, this is a sort of snapshot, a poem that strives to recapture a single instance in time and space (compare, for instance, 'Daffodils' and 'Composed Upon Westminster Bridge'). Unsurprising, actually, since it reflects Wordsworth's own philosophy of poetry; i.e, that a poem should be a 'spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings, recollected in tranquility'. The poem itself needs little explanation, but note the memorable quality of phrases like 'stop here, or gently pass', or the wonderful imagery of 'breaking the silence of the seas'. Note also the slightly unusual rhyme scheme, ababccdd, which along with the short fourth line gives the poem a nice rhythmic effect. Notes: Coleridge, Wordsworth, and his sister had visited the Scottish Highlands in 1803. In a note to early editions of the poem Wordsworth recorded his indebtedness to a sentence in his friend Wilkinson's manuscript of his Tours of the British Mountains: "Passed by a Female who was reaping alone; she sang in Erse 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." -- Representative Poetry Online <http://library.utoronto.ca/www/utel/rp/poems/wordswor30.html> m.