Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
“The Solitary Reaper” is about the power of the imagination to transform common, everyday events into representations of a larger reality. To the Romantic poets, imagination was not a synonym for fantasy. Instead they saw it as closely allied with intuition and emotion. This faculty enabled the poet to see familiar things in a radically different way. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a Romantic poet himself and a friend of Wordsworth, noted that “the grandest efforts of poetry are when the imagination is called forth, not to produce a distinct form, but a strong working of the mindthe result being what the poet wishes to impress, namely, the substitution of a sublime feeling of the unimaginable for a mere image.” The aim of the Romantics was to express an abstract idea using concrete images that were usually drawn from nature.
The poem is an example of the commonplace pointing the sensitive observer toward an ideal of unity or completeness of being. Although the reaper is a flesh-and-blood person, she becomes a spiritual gateway for the speaker of the poem. The natural environment that surrounds her only heightens her mystery. Her simple song is an expression of her own heritage and background, yet the speaker imagines it to be an articulation of the eternal, the boundless, the ultimate reality. This intuitive impression of the infinite leaves the speaker a different person than when he first encountered the girl. The wonder of her song permeates his...
(The entire section is 527 words.)
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