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The Solitary Reaper by William Wordsworth

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Jeremy Chung

on 22 January 2014

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Transcript of The Solitary Reaper by William Wordsworth

The Solitary Reaper
by William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth (7 April 1770 – 23 April 1850) was a major English Romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with the 1798 joint publication Lyrical Ballads. '"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 feelings" that Wordsworth identified at the heart of poetry. This poem is unique in Wordsworth's oeuvre because while most of his work is based closely on his own experiences, "The Solitary Reaper" is based on the experience of someone else: Thomas Wilkinson, as described in his Tours to the British Mountains. The passage that inspired Wordsworth is the following: "Passed a female who was reaping alone: she sung in Erse [the Gaelic 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"
The Solitary Reaper
By: Jeremy Chung, Gianna Genova, and Evan Wong
Why was the valley filled with music?
In the first stanza, the poet indicates how the solitary highland lass is reaping and singing a song which is incomprehensible to the poet. The poet urges not to disturb her in her work and her singing. He suggests one to either watch her or gently pass from the scene. The poet highlights how the solitary reaper sings a melancholic tune while doing her work. The poet emphasises how the entire valley is flowing with the sound of the song.
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.
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.
Imagery: Throughout the poem, Wordsworth uses visual imagery to have the reader’s picture what he is entails in the poem. For example, in the beginning of the first stanza, Wordsworth mentions a woman working in a field by herself singing. With this image the readers can picture cutting and harvesting grains in a field while singing. This is significant to the poem because the readers can better visualize the woman and the environment in which the poem takes place in.
Figurative: Wordsworth does not use any form of figurative language in “The Solitary Reaper”.
Syntax/ Word: Throughout the poem, uses specific words to set up a mood. The phrase “more welcome notes to weary bands” is used to describe the types of songs the woman is singing because she is thinking about past events that occurred in her life that make her sad. This is significant because by using phrase like this Wordsworth makes it easier for the readers to realize that the diction is somewhat on the depressed side.
Hyperbole:' Breaking the silence of the seas, among the farthest Hebrids.' It describes the voice of the reaper as one that is so loud, that it was heard miles away from where it originally began.
Metaphor: He compares the voice of the reaper to other beautiful voices, such as those of a 'Cuckoo-bird in the spring-time' and the voice of a 'nightingale'.
In the second stanza, the poet is all praises for the tune of the song. The poet is unable to understand the language of the song but the tune is quite expressive. In this stanza, the poet employs the literary device of metaphor and hyperbole to emphasise the enchanting quality of the song. The poet categorically says that no nightingale did ever chant in such a mellifluous voice, the quality of voice of the reaper surpassing that of the cuckoo-bird in spring.
In the third stanza, the poet tries to conjecture about the themes of the song. Given its melancholy tune, the poet feels that the theme of the song might be of some natural sorrow, loss or pain or of battles fought long ago.
Finally, the poet concludes that even if he cannot grasp the meaning of the song, he finds the tune touching his heart and lingering in his mind for ever giving him joy despite its melancholy nature.
There are 3 levels/rounds. Each question is worth 1 point. The team with the most points by the end wins. The questions get progressively harder. Good luck!
What were the poet's/narrator first thoughts when he saw the solitary reaper?
Answer: The poet was so moved by the reaper working all alone in the fields, singing her song, that he felt the scene should not be disturbed. The slightest noise would be jarring. So he stood there quietly watching her at her work.
Answer: The song was very intense and melodious. The beauty of the girl's voice was so deep, that the entire valley echoed with the song.
Level 2
Level 2
Level 3
To what does the poet compare the reaper's song?
Answer: The young maiden's song was inspiring and welcome to the poet, just as the nightingale's song in the desert which is indicative of an oasis nearby. The song is also compared to the cuckoo's song in the far off islands of the Hebrides.
Why was the poet puzzled with the song?
Answer: The girl was singing in a language that the poet did not understand. He was puzzled about the meaning of the song.
How did the reaper's song affect the poet?
Answer: The reaper's song made such an impact on the poet that he carried the music with him. He could feel the beauty of the song long after he had passed the valley.
You have 1 minute to answer this question with your group. This question is worth 2 points
Read the following and answer the questions:-

Alone she cuts, and binds the grain
And sings a melancholy strain
O listen! for the vale profound
Is overflowing with the sound.
a. Who is 'she'? (What character)

b. What is meant by 'melancholy strain'?

c. What does the 'vale profound' refer to?
a. 'She' is the solitary reaper.

b. 'Melancholy strain' means a sad song.

c. 'Vale profound' refers to a deep valley.
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.
You have 1 minute to answer this question with your group. This question is worth 5 points
"Will no one tell me what she sings
Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow
For old, unhappy, far- off things
And battles long ago

a. Why does the poet ask the question in the first line?

b. What is meant by 'plaintive numbers'?

c. What could have been one of the themes of the song?

a. The poet asks this question because he is unable to understand the meaning of the song, as the language in which she was singing was not familiar to the poet.

b. 'Plaintive numbers' means sad songs.

c. One of the themes could have been about battles fought long ago or some sad event of the past.
Thank you for listening to our presentation.
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