Of the Divine’s music

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 20 Nov 2018 10:34:33


By Vijay Phanshikar,





Behold her, single in the field,
Yon solitary Highland Lass!
Reaping and singing by herself,
Stop here, or gently pass!
Alone she cuts and binds her grain,
And sings a melancholy strain;
O listen! for the Vale profound
Is overflowing with the sound
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 listened, motionless and still;
And as I mounted up the hill,
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more.

- ‘The Solitary Reaper’,
by William Wordsworth
BY STANDARD categorisation, this may be one of Wordsworth’s Nature poems. But by non-standard standards, it has a profound spiritual meaning that also encompasses singular and lone human endeavour with a lasting value. This is not a poem per se, but an expression that fountained from the deep core of the poet’s response to an otherwise routine phenomenon of some Highland lass reaping the harvest, singing a song -- rather melancholic in the poet’s comprehension -- and helping him hear it long after it had ceased to fill the Vale profound/ ...overflowing with the sound ...!
There, thus, is a sense of permanence to the actually ephemeral -- the sounds of the song, the strains of the notes that get digested by the air -- never to be heard again. Yet, Wordsworth’s mind fine-tuned to hearing the inaudible, catches the emotion and the notion like no one else can. It is at this stage that ‘The Solitary Reaper’ is unique.
She is alone in the field, reaping and cutting and binding the grain. Her inner voice -- expressed in the song -- is her company. Her being there all alone is the reality of her being. One does not know who has sown the seeds of the harvest. Let us tell ourselves that it was that Highland Lass who did. And now she is up there, all by herself, reaping the harvest, enjoying the fruit, and perhaps feeling slightly melancholic about her being alone.
There can be countless shades of her melancholy -- shades of despair that nobody else wants to reap the harvest’s gift; shades of distrust that nobody wants to have the gain of the grain even when it is available to all; shades of disgust as well that the human race is yet to learn in real sense how to elevate itself to accept Nature’s gifts like the harvest of grain or rippling fields of creation.
‘The Solitary Reaper’ has so many meanings, revealed or concealed. William Wordsworth belonged to times when the human community was leaning or tilting towards material gain more obvious than the spiritual grain. In those times, quite possibly circumscribed by petty,  material dimensions of mediocre living, Wordsworth -- or people of his kind -- sought refuge in Nature, looked for symbolism as perceived from the image of the Highland Lass reaping the harvest all alone, singing -- and in the process of leaving the music behind long after it had died in the thick air in the Vale profound ... overflowing with the sound ... of the music eternal.


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 listened, motionless and still; ...

What is very profound is the detail ...
I listened, motionless and still ...!
For, possibly, one cannot accept the spiritual message unless one gives up one’s own motion and assumes a stillness that is akin to
meditation. For, only in such a state of mind
can one absorb the Divine’s music that
refuses to die.