Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Solitary Weaper

by 13 Stoploss

In my poetry class this morning, we were contemplating William Wordsworth and his Preface to Lyrical Ballads. In it, he professes, in no simpleton language, to defend his rhythmic compositions. Supposedly, he wrote in a style that was accessible to the common folk, but with a colour of imagination. A paradox, no doubt…

As an example, we read The Solitary Reaper.

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 the grain,


And sings a melancholy strain;

O listen! for the Vale profound

Is overflowing with the sound.

No Nightingale did ever chaunt

More welcome notes to weary bands


Of travellers in some shady haunt,

Among Arabian sands:

A voice so thrilling ne'er was 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 to-day?

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, motionless and still;

And, as I mounted up the hill,


The music in my heart I bore,

Long after it was heard no more.

Simple enough, I guess. But if you really examine it, it sounds like Wordsworth the rich elitist was wandering the Scottish countryside, pausing to leisurely gawk at some exotic worker girl in the field. I tried several ways to spin it, to make some sense of it. I imagined myself mowing the lawn at my old house, and some rich guy driving up in a Benz and parking across the street to monitor my progress. Somehow, that just seemed a bit too creepy for comfort.

Finally though, the poem brought back another thought, unshakeable, though I tried, a remembrance from a time when I was a PFC radio bitch, trudging through the sticks and reeds of the Baghdad canal system. With the walled city-proper in the distance, and nothing but farms of dirt surrounding either side of the canal, our death-march into the city started early in the morning, and ended past sun down. We had no food; we were low on water; and Joe was dropping out left and right, while the Battalion Commander’s HUMVEE kicked up dust into our dry mouths and eyes, speeding back and forth between Companies on the advance.

A quiet, solitary voice rang out in the ranks behind me: “Mas’a’s got me workin’…

It was weary, but grew in confidence for every new line: “Workin’ all da-ayyy…

I don’t remember the full verse, or the many ad-libs it contained from jokesters chiming in, but it came to resemble the feeling of the day: we were walking aimlessly, through the middle of the fucking desert, past farmers and fields and streams. We were hungry, seemingly abandoned, and until that moment, painfully silent in our shared misery.

It was a hymn that stuck in our minds for the rest of the evening, and I wished to have observed, from the eyes of a bystander, what it must have looked like, that dozens of overgrown children in tan clothes and boots, with oversized helmets, and black, mechanical extensions for hands, were walking like zombies, eyes glazed and lifeless, but singing a lonely slave song from the American south.

For the rest of the morning, I thought of that day. The poor donkey towing a wooden trailer full of loot from Saddam’s Palace. The trail of chintzy, shattered crystal from a chandelier that fell from the back. Urinating into the Euphrates from a Bridge twenty-five feet above the surface of the water. In a sense, I felt that loneliness and despair once again. Instantly, I lost connection with my surroundings, and shut down. Class was over, and I had ten minutes to eat my lunch.


Anonymous said...

Yes, that's what it all about, I think you got it. The beauty of the random human connection can really get in there sometimes, and help make being human worthwhile. Look for that stuff, there is more the more you look for it. z

Kelsey said...

You know what that scene you just described reminds me of? That scene at the end of an old war movie, I think it's Full Metal Jacket, where the soldiers are walking through a burned out Saigon with their empty eyes and torn, dirty, bloody uniforms singing the Mickey Mouse song. I saw that movie years ago, and that one scene is the only thing I remember about it. It's so haunting it's impossible to forget.

Pattie Matheson said...

I like your version better than his. My mind slammed shut the moment I saw the unmistakable form of a poem on your page. Poetry. One of those classes I avoided until senior year. I sometimes wonder how I managed to graduate!

Made myself read it tho and my only comment is that if he saw calm seas in the Hebrides he was there on an unusual day!