William Wordsworth




The Solitary Reaper


Behold her, single in the field,

Yon solitary Highland Lass!             (Highland Lass = a young woman from Scotland)

Reaping and singing by herself;        (Reaping = harvesting the grain)

Stop here, or gently pass!

Alone she cuts and binds the grain,

And sings a melancholy strain;

O listen! For the vale profound          (vale = a small valley)

Is overflowing with the sound.


No Nightingale did ever chaunt           (chaunt = sing)

More welcome notes to weary bands

Of travellers in some shady haunt,

Among Arabian sands:

A voice so thrilling ne'er was heard      (ne'er = never)

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?---     (he can't understand the song she sings                Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow         because it is in Erse or Gaelic, not in English)

For old, unhappy, far-off things,

And battles long ago:

Or is it some more humble lay,             (lay = a scheme; a plan;  or a short poem

Familiar matter of to-day?                                            or a song)

Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain,

That has been, and may be again?


Whate'er the theme, the Maiden sang       (Whate'er = whatever)

As if her song could have no ending;

I saw her singing at her work,

And o'er the sickle bending;---                 (o'er = over    sickle = the cutting tool she

I listened, motionless  and still;                                      uses to cut the grain)

And, as I mounted up the hill,

The music in my heart I bore,

Long after it was heard no more.





The above poem by Wordsworth is an example of the creative process.  The author takes something that he sees and hears and then creatively builds upon it.  Mind you, the author can hear or see the scene of the solitary reaper in the mind's eye; but none the less the author "sees" the scene and "hears" the song and then interprets what they are seeing and hearing.  They make more of it through the creative process than what the event holds for the casual observer and in that process they create something that may last forever.  This poem was written around two centuries ago.  Wordsworth lived from 1770 to 1850 and became one of the most celebrated poets of his era.


Most of the time Wordsworth created his poems based on his own experiences.  The Solitary Reaper is an exception to that generality.  This poem was based on a passage in Thomas Wilkinson's "Tour of Scotland" which Wordsworth had seen in manuscript form before it was published.  The passage he read was this one: "Passed by 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."


Another poet might have read that passage from Wilkinson and created a very different poem from it---or not been moved to create any poem.  You might play with that idea by creating your own short poem based on the Wilkinson scene that is distinctly different than what Wordsworth created.  But to do that you must first decide just what it is that the poet is trying to communicate.


What exactly is it that Wordsworth is telling his reader?


Is it that:


People who do hard work, the laboring class, can still perform their tasks joyfully, with a beautiful song in their heart?


Even the lowest amongst us, the laboring class, are creatures of talent and beauty?


We can never really know the heart of another because each of us speaks a foreign tongue, communicating who we really are in a language unique to us?


If we are alert to the world around us we will see and hear great beauty that will make an enduring impression upon us?


All of the above?