‘The Solitary Reaper” is one of William Wordsworth’s most famous post-Lyrical Ballads lyrics. It describes the poet’s delight in a young woman’s melancholy song in an unknown language. A highland girl is singing a ‘melancholy song’ as she wings a sickle and reaps grain. The song is carried through the hills and valleys and seems to echo all around. To the poet the song seems sweeter even than the song of Nightingale. He does not want anyone to disturb the enchanting melodious music emanating from her. The tone of this poem is pleasant and it is a poem of praise on the natural beauty of countryside as well as the relaxed life of the rural people. Stylistic plays a very import rule in any writing, which fully helps express the author’s feeling and create an unexpected effect. This article discusses the language of this poem from syntax, phonology and graphology, semantics, lexical, language usage and passage. 1. Syntax
(1) Parallelisms refers to the same structure is repeated two or more than two times. It can produce some esthetic efforts: patterned and in rhyme, good to read. In Stanza2, “Among Arabian sands…Among the farthest Hebrides” emphasize the Scottish girl’s special voice, which shows that the poet was impressed by the girl’s beautiful voice. (2) Inverted sentences are to change the normal word to produce some emphatic effect. “No Nightingale did ever chaunt”, “A voice so thrilling ne’er was heard” here is to emphasize that the solitary reaper’s voice is unique. In addition, this structure can keep the balance of sentence. (3)
Rhetorical questions are to use the form of a question in order to express a strong emotion or to emphasize a particular aspect. “Will no one tell me what she sings” “Or is it some more humble lay, famillar matter of today?” “That has been, and may be again?” Since the poet couldn’t understand what the girl was singing, it seems that he asked these questions to himself. However, they are actually asked to the readers. Thus, the poet used the rhetorical question to connect with the readers by attracting their attention making them participate in his thinking. In addition, there are no exact answers to the question, which is thought provoking and emphasize the unique and impressiveness of the voice. 2. Phonology
(1) Sound pattering can achieve a sense of rhythm and harmonious and connective effect. Assonance refers to the use of the same, or related, vowel sounds in successive words and consonance refers to the repletion of the last consonants of the stressed words at the end of the lines. For example “Sorrow, loss or pain”, this usage of the same sound “/o/”, “single”, “reaping”, “singing”, “sing”, “nightingale”, the repetition of /ing/, and “still”, “hill” in “I listened, motionless and still” and “And, as I mounted up the hill”, all this create a harmonious effect and sounds good. (2) Rhythm refers to a rhyme scheme (pattern) formed by stresses perceived as peaks of prominence.
This poem consists of four stanzas, the first and fourth stanzas follow strictly the thyme pattern ABABCCDD, while the second and third stanzas are in the pattern of ABCBDDEE. Every stanza has end rhyme in this poem. For example, the end rhyme in the first stanza is /t/ /s/ /t/ /s/ /d/ /d/ /s/ /s/. (3) Punctuation marks are mainly used for special stylistic effects or rhetorical purposes. This poem adopts exclamation marks, for example “Yon solitary Highland lass! Stop here, or gently pass!” to expressing special feelings of impressiveness of the girl’s voice dash. Besides, “Will no one tell me what she sings? —Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow for old, unhappy, far-off things ”, the usage of the dash here is to give the various guess on the question. 3. Semantics
(1) Reference means that some units of language can be explained by referring to some other elements in the above or in the text below. And the author uses anaphora, one kind of reference, points above in this poem. “her” and “she” appearing in first and last stanza refers to the “reaper” in the title. This kind of reference can avoid repetition or burdensome, and looks simple of a language. (2) Conjunction refers to the elements which connect the clauses and sentences in a text, such words as, “and”, “or” etc. “And battles long ago”, “Or is it some more humble lay”, “And, as I mounted up the hill” It is used to show the detailed relations with each parts and this can show the author’ pleasant feeling about the song sang by the highland girl. 4. Lexical
(1) Many of the words (images) chosen are poetic or obsolete words which are not frequently used in our daily life. For example, “Behold”(see), “yon”(German “jene”), “vale” (valley), “chaunt”(sing), “numbers”(lines), “lay”(song). These archaic words show that it is of formal style. (2) The word “overflow” is quite impressive. Using this word, the sounds of nature sung out by the solitary girl are so vivid that readers seem to visualize the smooth movement of the notes within the valley as well as to hear the song. The poet transferred the sense of hearing into visual and tactile feelings by using this word 5. Language
The poet mainly use Simile and comparison in the this poem. “No Nightingale did ever chaunt more welcome notes to weary bands…” “A voice so thrilling ne’er was heard in springtime from the Cuckoo bird, breaking the silence of the seas…” The poet compared the girl’s singing to a Nightingale and Cuckoo bird. The metaphor and the comparison between the voice of the girl and that of the Nightingale and Cukoo at once points to her commonness and exclusiveness. It also underlines the power and purity of the voice of the solitary girl. 6. Passage
At the beginning, the poet encountered a solitary Scottish rustic girl who was reaping and singing a melancholy song which had a charm for him. And then the poet made two comparisons of the melody to the sweet voice of a nightingale and cuckoo-bird. He stated that the girl’s song was far more beautiful than them. At the same time, the poet began speculating the content of the song which was sung in Scot—whether it was about some old, sad matters or some sufferings of present time. In the end the poet made a conclusion in which he emphasized the lingering effect of the music on him. In conclusion, this poem, “The Solitary Reaper”, reflects many sides of stylistics, including syntax (parallelisms, inverted sentences and rhetorical questions), phonology (sound pattering, rhythm, and punctuation mark), semantics (reference, conjunction), lexical (images), and language. It fully helps express the author’s feeling and create an unexpected effect. In a word, stylistics can be almost found and used in every kinds of writing.