The Romantic period of English literature is enriched with one of a kind creations of legendary minds like William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats and many more. Wordsworth among them is undoubtedly the greatest and longest surviving. The poem being discussed in context here belongs to a specific genre of Wordsworthian poems. Wordsworth’s poems, though belonging to the Romantic era only, had several distinguishing factors amidst them. Wordsworth ’s ideas of pantheism and glorification of childhood find as much place in his creations as does the re-imagination of rustic life. The Solitary Reaper belongs to the latter genre.
The Solitary Reaper Rhyme Scheme and Figure of Speech
The Solitary Reaper was written by Wordsworth in 1805 and was later published in the collection Poems, in two volumes, in 1807. It comprises of eight stanzas each stanza containing four lines each. The poem is composed in the typical romantic meter of iambic tetrameter along with rhyming couplets, which help in building the sense of rhythm throughout the poem. Each of the poem’s stanza comprises of an alternate rhyme scheme of ABAB and CCDD, however, in the first and last stanza the ‘A’ rhyme is off. Like all of Wordsworth’s poems, this too has the unique Wordsworthian poetic diction. As described by Wordsworth in a preface to Lyrical Ballads,
“The principal object proposed in these poems was to choose incidents and situations from common life, and to relate or describe them throughout in a selection of the language really used by men, and at the same time, to throw over them a certain colouring of the imagination whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual aspect… humble and rustic life was generally chosen because in that condition the essential passion of the heart find a better soil, in which they can attain their maturity, realism under restraint and speak a plainer and more emphatic language.”
Wordsworth although is unable to confirm the richness of his thought in the “language really used by men”, but he successfully transfers the quality to the simplicity of “humble and rustic life” and paints the ordinary instance of girl reaping grain into a poetic mastery as The Solitary Reaper.
The poem is saturated with exquisite use of several figures of speech. In the first stanza, the narrator/poet provides the reader with a simple imagery of the rustic and uncomplicated countryside, of the rural England which Wordsworth was particularly fond of. Following it is an assonance, the repetition of two or more vowel sounds in close proximity, in the line,
“ O listen ! for the Vale profound
Is overflowing with the sound”
The Romantics were as fond and fascinated with Nature as they were of the East or the Orient. Example of such nature is found in the proceeding lines where the poet is comparing the girls singing with that of a nightingale greeting the weary travelers of Arabian sands with her song. He even compares her song with the melodious call of the springtime cuckoo. To give emphasis this certain sweetness of her song, the poet employs hyperbole in the line
“ Breaking the silence of the seas
Among the farthest Hebrides”
The quoted lines, as claimed by the narrator/poet, emphasizes that the melody of the “solitary reaper’s” song is potent enough to calm the turbulence of the violent English seas, to as far as the distant Scottish island of the Hebrides. Interrogation or Frotesis is often employed by poets to bring out the anxiety of their situation. Wordsworth here to resorts to asking a question,
“ will no one tell me what she sings?”.
He does this in order to ravell the mysterious origin of the song, which he goes on to uncover on his own. Asyndeton is the omission of connecting conjunctions in order to conduct the energy and vividness of the ongoing rhythm of the poem. Such an example of asyndeton is found in the following line,
“ for old, unhappy, far-off things,”
By and by Wordsworth uses different techniques of emphasis to provide a different texture to the fabric of the poem. He uses alliteration to enhance the sonority of his verse.
“ no nightingale did ever chaunt”
“ among Arabian sands”
The metaphor is the widely used figure of speech employed by all creators of literature. Wordsworth here enhances the quality of the girl’s song by providing us the metaphor of comparing the two contradictory elements of a girls singing with that of a nightingale or cuckoo. The poet also employs apostrophe, the addressing of an imaginary or not actively present or participating character as a part of the narration, in this case, the solitary reaper. He thrice uses ecphonesis, an emotional, exclamatory phrase, used in poetry, drama or songs, in order to catch the attention the reader, similar to the way the song of the solitary reaper has caught his. This is to indicate the sudden fascination and overwhelming of emotions which had urged him to stop and observe.
Some other figures of speech that can be observed through the course of the poem are, litotes, or the figure of speech in which “ by denying the contrary, more is intended that expressed”, for example,
“ as if her song had no ending”
Meaning it was infinite. Through this, we can also perceive an image of a never-ending river in the description of the song. Wordsworth concludes his poem with an allegory, present in the lines,
“ the music in my heart bore,
Long after it was heard”
The allegory here is to the soothing and healing power of Nature, which even in reminiscence, is able to calm the soul as it had during the actual encounter. Wordsworth often tends to end his poem on such a note of reminiscence, to signify the nurturing and enriching qualities of Mother Nature, which has been the subject of his fascination since his childhood. Other examples of such reminiscence are present in his poems like Tintern Abbey and I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud of Daffodils.