Suggested paraphrase ideas for the poem The Solitary Reaper by William Wordsworth
Look at her, all alone,
Girl from the Highland mountains of Scotland,
Harvesting the grain.
Pass by quietly, or stop altogether for a moment
So as not to disturb her -
See how she cuts and ties the stalks
Singing her sorrowful song.
Just listen - the whole deep valley
Overflows with the music.
Not even the beautiful Nightingale bird
Sang such cheering music to groups of
Tired and thirsty travellers at an oasis
In some desert of the Middle East.
Neither did a Cuckoo bird
Brighten the quietness of the tempestuous seas
Around the Scottish Islands
So far away and isolated.
Doesn't anyone know the tune she's singing?
I wish I knew.
Perhaps the notes tell of sorrow or war from long ago
In her past
Or maybe its just some daily domestic strife
That she suffered in her past
And will again suffer in her future.
Whatever the name of the song the young girl sang
She sang it as if it would never have an ending -
I saw her sing it while she worked
With the sharp curved wheat knife in her hand
as she bent to cut and tie.
It was music that stayed in my heart for ever
As I departed up the hill
And could her singing no more.
You might want to add your own ideas and vocabulary to decorate the paraphrase and make it more poetic!
The poem is made up of four stanzas. In the first stanza, Wordsworth sets the scene for the readers. He asks us to observe the Highland girl busily reaping the ripe grain and singing to herself. He asks us to pause and listen to the song which fills the entire valley,or quietly leave the place without disturbing her.
In the second stanza, Wordsworth tells us that her beautiful song was more refreshing than the melodious song of the nightingale which welcomed the weary travellers as soon as they arrived at an oasis and that her song was more pleasing than the cuckoo's song which signalled the end of the harsh winter season and the beginning of spring.
Wordsworth uses two images--"word pictures"--to describe how refreshing and reinvigorating it was to listen to the melodious song of "the solitary reaper."
1. A group of exhausted travellers when crossing the scorchingly hot Arabian desert arrive at a nearby oasis to refresh themselves. As soon as they enter this cool and shady retreat, they first hear the melodious song of the nightingale and immediately they feel revitalised. The tuneful and pleasant song of the bird drives away all their feelings of exhaustion. Similarly, Wordsworth remarks that he was also revitalised when he heard the "melancholy strain" of 'the solitary reaper.'
2. In England during the bitterly cold winter season all the birds migrate to warmer countries in the tropics. They return to England at the beginning of the spring season which marks the end of winter. Traditionally, it is the cuckoo which first returns to England in spring and as soon as the people hear the melodious sound of the cuckoo bird they are thrilled and delighted because they know that the harsh winter season has ended. The Hebrides are a group of small islands in the remote North West coast of Scotland. The winter season in the "farthest Hebrides" was always extremely harsh and the sound of the cuckoo bird signalling the end of winter was specially significant. In the same manner, the song of the solitary reaper was special to Wordsworth.
Since Wordsworth could not understand Gaelic, the language of the reaper, he impatiently asks whether someone could tell him what she was singing about. By doing so he sparks our imagination as to what she could be singing about.
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?"
Soon,Wordsworth leaves the scene concluding that although he could not understand what she was singing about nevertheless he could always remember the melodious tune of her song:"The music in my heart I bore/Long after it was heard no more."
Wordsworth wonders whether she is singing about the past - about some sorrowful incident of the past, like a defeat in a battle OR about some unhappy incident in the present which may be repeated again in the future. The important thing to remember is that whether it is the past, the present or the future Wordsworth is convinced that what she is thinking about is sad and sorrowful which is echoed in the melancholic tone of her melody.
The words 'single' 'solitary' and 'alone' have been foregrounded. 'Single'implies that she is the only person in the valley; 'solitary' hints at the melancholy mood of the poem and 'alone' refers to the fact that there is no one to assist her in her labours.