These two pages, which contain a version of the poem ‘The Solitary Reaper’, are part of the manuscript of Poems in Two Volumes (1807) that William Wordsworth sent to his publishers.
What inspired the ‘The Solitary Reaper’?The poem itself was probably composed on 5 November 1805. Though Wordsworth had visited Scotland himself in 1803, the fresher stimulus for the poem was Thomas Wilkinson’s Tours of the British Mountains, the manuscript of which circulated among friends for years before it was published in 1824. There, Wilkinson describes a moment in which he,
Passed a female who was reaping alone: she sung in Erse 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.
By ‘Erse’, Wilkinson meant a Scottish variant of the Gaelic language.
What changes does it show being made to the poem?
This copy was transcribed by Sara Hutchinson, probably between January and February 1807, and corrected by Wordsworth before it was sent on from Coleorton, where they were living. Comparing it with earlier manuscripts, we can see that ‘singing’ in the first line is a scribal error for ‘single’. Within the manuscript itself, we can see that ‘a solitary’ has been changed to ‘the’ solitary, and later on line 13, ‘sound’ replaced with ‘voice’. On line 25, although four earlier manuscripts read ‘sung’, the top of the ‘u’ written by Sara has been closed off to form an ‘a’.
And thus among these rocks he liv’d,
Through summer’s heat and winter’s snow:
The Eagle, he was Lord above,
And Rob was Lord below.
So was it - would, at least, have been
But through untowardness of fate:
For Polity was then too strong;
He came an age too late.
Or shall we say an age too soon?
For, were the bold Man living now,
How might he flourish in his pride,
With buds on every bough!
Then rents and ^ & Factors, land - marks, rights of chace,
[interlining here has been erased]
Sheriffs, and Factors, Lairds and their domains,
Would all have seem’d but paltry things,
Not worth a moment’s pains.
Rob Roy, had never linger’d here,
To these few meagre tales confin’d;
But thought how wide the world, the ^ times
How fairly to his mind!
And to his Sword he would have said,
“Do Thou my sovereign will enact
“From land to land through half the earth!
“Judge thou of law and fact!
“ ‘Tis fit that we should do our part;
“Becoming, that mankind should learn
“That we are not to be surpass’d
“In fatherly concern.
“Of old things all are over old,
“Of good things none are good enough: –
“We’ll shew that we can help to frame
“A world of other stuff.
“I, too, will have my Kings that take,
“From me the sign of life and death:
“Kingdoms shall shift about, like clouds,
“Obedient to my breath.”
And if the word had been fulfill’d;
As might have been, then, thought of joy!
France would have had her present Boast;
And We our brave Rob Roy!
- - -
Oh! say not so; compare them not!
I would not wrong thee, Champion brave!
Would wrong thee no where; least of all
Here standing by Thy Grave.
For Thou; although with some wild thoughts,
Wild Chieftain of a Savage Clan!
Hadst this to boast of; thou didst love
The liberty of Man.
And, had it been thy lot to live
With us who now behold the light,
Thou would’st have nobly stirr’d thyself,
And battled for the Right.
For Robin was the poor man’s stay
The poor man’s heart, the poor man’s hand;
And all the oppress’d, who wanted strength,
Had Robin’s to command.
Bear witness many a pensive sigh
Of thoughtful Herdsman when he strays
Alone upon Loch Veol’s Heights,
And by Loch Lomond’s Braes!
And, far and near, through vale and hill,
Are faces that attest the same;
And kindle, like a fire new stirr’d,
At sound of Rob Roy’s name.
The Solitary Reaper.
Behold her, singing 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
So sweetly to reposing bands
Of Travellers in some shady haunt,
Among Arabian Sands:
No sweeter sound ^ voice was ever 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 today;
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 listen’d ‘till I had my fill;
And, as I mounted up the hill,
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more.
( While ^ my Fellow-traveller and I were walking by the side of
Loch Ketterine, one fine evening ^ after sun-set, in our
road to a Hut where in the course of our
Tour we had been hospitably entertained
some weeks before, we met, in one of the
loneliest parts of that solitary region, two
well-dressed Women, one of whom said to
us, by way of greeting, “What you are
stepping westward?” )
“What you are stepping westward?” – Yea,
– ‘Twould be a wildish destiny,
If we, who thus together roam
In a strange Land, and far from home,
Were in in this place the guests of Chance.
Yet who would stop, or fear to advance,
Though home or shelter he had none,
With such a sky to lead him on?
The dewy ground was dark and cold;
Behind, all gloomy to behold;
And stepping westward seem’d to be
A kind of heavenly destiny;
I liked the greeting; ‘twas a sound
Of something without place or bound;
And seem’d to give me spiritual right
To travel through that region bright.
- - -
52 [in pencil]
23 [in pencil]
The voice was soft, and she who spake
Was walking by her native Lake:
The salutation had to me
The very sound of courtesy;
It’s power was felt; and, while my eye
Was fixed upon the glowing sky,
The echo of the voice enwrought
A human sweetness with the thought
Of travelling through the world that lay
Before me in my endless way.
or the Narrow Glen.
In this still place, remote from men,
Sleeps Ossian, in the Narrow Glen;
In this still place, where murmurs on
But one meek Streamlet, only one:
He sang of battles, and the breath
Of stormy war, and violent death;
And should, methinks, when all was past,
Have rightfully been laid at last
Where rocks were rudely heap’d, and rent
As by a spirit turbulent;
Where sights were rough, and sounds were wild:
And every thing unreconciled;
In some complaining, dim retreat,
For fear and melancholy meet;
But this is calm; there cannot be
A more entire tranquillity.
Does then the Bard sleep here indeed?
Or is it but a groundless creed?
What matters it? I blame them not
Whose fancy in this lonely spot
Was mov’d; and in this way ^ express’d xx xxx express’d
Their notion of it’s perfect rest.
A Convent, even a hermit’s Cell
Would break the silence of this Dell:
It is not quiet, is not ease;
But something deeper far than these:
The separation that is here
Is of the grave; and of austere
And happy feelings of the dead:
And, therefore, was it rightly said
That Ossian, last of all his Race!
Lies buried in this lonely place.
- Full title:
- 'The Solitary Reaper' from William Wordsworth's Poems, in Two Volumes, 1807: the printer's manuscript
- estimated 14 November 1806 - early April 1807, Coleorton, Leicestershire
- William Wordsworth
- © Dove Cottage - Wordsworth Trust
- Held by
- British Library
- Add MS 47864
- Article by:
- Philip Shaw
Professor Philip Shaw considers the composition of 'Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey', and explains how Wordsworth uses nature to explore ideas of connection and unity.
- Article by:
- Philip Shaw
Professor Philip Shaw explores the role of the sublime in Wordsworth's autobiographical Prelude, explaining how the poet uses the concept to investigate nature, imagination and the divine.
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