Elaine Wong Mrs. K.

Loll AP English IV 11 February 2008 "The Solitary Reaper" Poetry Explication
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. 10


30 1798.

Wong 2 This poem presents three main internal conflicts concerning the speaker's perception of nature and the reality of the setting. Firstly, the speaker illustrates the beauty and sonority of the lass' song despite the "melancholy strain" (6) she is undergoing simultaneously. In addition, the speaker's wish to understand the girl's song is widely in discord with the fact that the song may lose its beauty if he were to comprehend it. This internal conflict is detailed in stanza three when the speaker presents a variety of suppositions concerning the subject of the music. Lastly, he presents his experience as though he were presently seduced in the "plaintive numbers" (18) although it has been years since he had heard the songs. These emotional conflicts strongly bind the poem together and gives it the coherence that makes it memorable. "The Solitary Reaper" consists mainly of 4-foot lines. However, the fourth line of each stanza is written in iambic trimeter. The work generally follows a rigid meter. However, it deviates from the structure in at least one line of each stanza. The poet uses an ababccdd rhyme scheme in each stanza but does not rhyme the first and third lines of the first and last stanzas. Both the subject and the meter takes the form of a ballad. By beginning the piece in a ballad structure, the poet suggests the piece tells a story of the speaker's encounter of the girl. The fact that ballads can usually are sung brings irony into the work. This poem illustrates the beautiful music the lass makes through her songs; by making the poem itself into an elegant song, the speaker creates incongruity in the very backbone of the piece. The ballad commences with a blatant praising of the "solitary Highland Lass" (2). Through the use of this concise description, the poet presents the readers with his image of the protagonist in the poem. The poet chooses to capitalize the words "Highland" and "Lass" in this phrase. By doing so, the poet allows the speaker's reverence toward the young lady to shine through. Moreover, instead of using a condescending term such as "girl, to describe the solitary

Wong 3 reaper, the speaker chooses "lass". This word connotes a girl who is young, yet mature and experienced. It is apparent that the speaker is aware of the hardships the girl is going through as she sings these songs. However, the speaker chooses to treat her like a saint. He instructs people who encounter her to "Stop here, or gently pass" (4), as if she were an exhibit in a museum. The speaker cleverly places these apotheosizing phrases between lines which describe her work: "Reaping and singing by herself" (3) and "Alone she cuts and binds the grain" (5). In doing so, the poet vividly depicts the conflict between the lass' superhuman seductive facade and the nature of her work in reality. In the second stanza, the speaker shifts from detailing his encounter with the girl to an extended analogy between the solitary reaper's song and a bird's song. The speaker draws on the experiences of readers to connect the "welcome notes" of a nightingale and "thrilling [sounds]" of a cuckoo to the girl's voice. In doing so, the speaker vividly illustrates the perceptible beauty of the song. However, just as he cannot understand the subject and meaning of a bird's song, he does not comprehend the ideas present in the lyrics of the lass' song. Nevertheless, music is a universal beauty that is comprehended by all. Despite the fact that he cannot decipher the meaning in the work, the speaker is still able to enjoy the harmonious sounds that come from the girl's lips. The figurative language the speaker uses in this section of the ballad allows him to demonstrate his internal conflict while experiencing the girl's song. At the end of the stanza, the speaker references the "Hebrides" (16), which is a string of islands off the coast of Scotland. This link ties this stanza back to the beginning of the poem. The Hebrides, being so far as almost unattainable, can be viewed as majestic and mysterious. These two adjectives describe the solitary reaper accurately. By using this image as a connection back to the subject of the ballad, the speaker provides for a smooth transition to the mood of the third paragraph.

Wong 4 The third stanza serves to portray the speaker's internal struggles as he listens to the solitary reaper's song. Many of the lines in this section consist of rhetorical questions: "Will no one tell me what she sings?" (17); "Or is it some more humble lay, / Familiar matter of to-day?" (21-22); "Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain, / That has been, and may be again?" (23-24). These contribute to the structure of this unique stanza and draw the reader's attention to the central conflicts of the poem. Despite the fact that learning the meaning of the lass' song may shatter the fragile guise of her music, the speaker appears to wish to face reality and learn "what she sings" (17). In addition, his references to time lapse, "matter of to-day" (22) and "has been, and may be again" (24), foreshadow what the speaker will reveal in the final stanza. The poet refers to the lass' songs as "plaintive numbers" (18). Literally, this phrase is synonymous to "melancholy strain" (6). However, the diction he uses in this line changes the connotation of the phrase. Although the denotation of "plaintive" suggests sadness and mourning, the root of the word allows readers to conjure other images. The solitary reaper is seen by many as a "plain" figure. She is, after all, a simplistic country girl who is tending to her crops. By allowing this secondary meaning to slip into the poem, the poet allows his ballad to take on different interpretations. This use of diction further contributes to the conflicts in this poem. The song the girl sings may be very moving for the observer, but for her, it may very well be just another way to pass time during her monotonous work. The speaker also deviates from the rigid meter in the final line of this stanza (24). Although he uses the same number of syllables, the poet changes the metric pattern to one that is roughly anapestic, suggesting the effect of time on every aspect of life. The last stanza of the ballad unites the different aspects of emotional conflict the speaker presents in the poem. The poet repeats the description of the scene in order to allow the ballad to come to a full circle as it closes. He concedes to the fact that he will never understand the

Wong 5 subject of the lass' song. However, he continues to listen to the song and imagine the beauty it suggests. The last two lines of the poem are essential to fully grasp the meaning of the ballad as a whole: "The music in my heart I bore / Long after it was heard no more" (33-34). In the second to last line, the speaker uses a metonymy by utilizing his "heart" to represent his entire self and inner soul. The speaker's claim is a lyrical way of stating that the lass' song touched his soul. Here, it is apparent that the speaker has resolved a primary conflict apparent in the poem. He realizes that the lass is poor, and that the song may very well be the only thing of beauty in her existence. However, he relishes his experience listening to her, as the music really touched his soul. In addition, the last lines allow readers to understand the final conflict the poem presents. Until this point in the ballad, it is not apparent that the song was written "long after" the speaker had listened to the song. By gaining this piece of information, readers can now understand that the poet has long returned to reality and has removed himself from the magic of the song. In this way, the poet accentuates the internal conflict between the imaginary and reality.