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This poem is typical of the work of Wordsworth in the way that it focuses on an enounter that Wordsworth had in the countryside with a woman who works in a field, harvesting the grain. This encounter impacts Wordsworth so strongly because of the way that the sight of this woman working and the sound of her song dominates the scene. The "melancholy strain" she sings "overflowers" the "vale profound" in its beauty. Having introduced the woman in the first stanza, the speaker then goes on to compare the song of the woman in the second stanza to that of the nightingale and the cuckoo and in each case finding the song of the woman more attractive:
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.
Note how Wordsworth chooses deliberately Romantic settings, imagining exotic "Arabian sands" and the distant "farthest Hebrides." Compared to the song of these two birds, the woman's tune is far superior, yet the third stanza specifies that Wordsworth is not able to discern what it is she actually is singing. He speculates that perhaps the tune echoes "old, unhappy, far-off things" or "battles long ago," or does her tune capture "some natural sorrow, loss, or pain, / That has been, and may be again!" The way that the tune resonates with Wordsworth is undoubtedly part of its appeal, as in it he seems to find immortalised something about the perennial human experience of suffering.
The final stanza talks of how Wordsworth reacted to seeing and hearing the woman,and how he stood there entranced, "motionless and still," listening to her song and watching her as she worked. The final three lines reinforce the massive impact this chance encounter has had on him:
And, as I mounted up the hill,
The music in my heart I bore
Long after it was heard no more.
The song and sight of the solitary reaper is something that he takes away with him and is not able to forget. Somehow, the tune echoes on in his soul as he leaves the woman, reflecting the massive impact that this woman and her song had on the poet.
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