The Solitary Reaper is one of William Wordsworth’s better known poems, however it is non the worst for that. In the poem Wordsworth describes how he was moved by a young highland girl, alone in a Scottish field, reaping and singing. She is at one with nature (as Wordsworth puts it “Oh listen for the vale profound is overflowing with the sound”). The poet is unable to comprehend the meaning of the Reaper’s song, “Will no one tell me what she sings”, he is, despite his inability to understand the lady’s words (she is, almost certainly singing in Gaelic) deeply moved by his encounter.
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.