Music and Poetry
The poetry of William Wordsworth initiated the Romantic Era by emphasizing emotion, intuition, and pleasure rather than form and affectation. His poems set the stage for John Keats, a central figure in early 19th century Romanticism. The fundamental themes in the works of both poets include: the beauty of nature; the consanguinity of dreams/visions and reality and yet the tendency of dreams to mask reality; the intense emotions brought about by beauty and/or suffering; and the transience of both sensation and human life. Although William Wordsworth and John Keats wrote poetry with entirely different senses of purpose, they came together in the worship of a song that each found in nature. Both Wordsworth and Keats were able to internalize their own experience and then re-externalize it in a piece of poetry – “The Solitary Reaper” and “Ode to a Nightingale” respectively – describing the effect of a stirring song each encountered in a natural setting.
William Wordsworth’s poem “The Solitary Reaper” reveres the song of a young Highland lass who is “reaping and singing by herself” (3). The poem is written in four stanzas of eight lines each, with a steady iambic tetrameter as its meter. The poem has a fairly steady rhyme scheme of ababccdd, though it varies in the first and third rhymes of the first and last stanzas. The poem has only eight enjambed lines. By making twenty-four of the thirty-two lines of the poem endstopped, Wordsworth allows the reader to read each line slowly. This consequently works to relieve any sense of suspense or moments of tension within the poem. As seen in Wordsworth’s “Nutting,” a lack of endstopped lines can allow emotion to build and inspire a sense of frenzied passion.
. . . Then up I rose,
And dragged to earth both branch and bough, with crash
And merciless ravage: and the shady nook
Of hazels, and the green and mossy bower,
Deformed and sullied, patiently gave up
Their quiet being: and, unless I now
Confound my present feelings with the past . . .
I felt a sense of pain when I beheld
The silent trees, and saw the intruding sky . . .
The use of endstopped lines in “The Solitary Reaper” creates an effect contrary to that seen in “Nutting.” The endstopped lines make “The Solitary Reaper” more song-like and allow each line to flow into the next without a sense of haste. The language of the poem is simple, as it is in most of Wordsworth’s poetry, to make it accessible to the common man. In this particular poem, the language emphasizes the rustic and natural setting in which the simple, bucolic girl works amongst the grain. This accentuates the unexpected beauty that Wordsworth discovers in the reaper’s song.
Wordsworth believed that poetry should provide a key, allowing readers to unlock the emotions contained in their memories. He saw nature and...