The Poem (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
“The Solitary Reaper” is a short lyrical ballad, composed of thirty-two lines and divided into four stanzas. As the title suggests, the poem is dominated by one main figure, a Highland girl standing alone in a field harvesting grain. The poem is written in the first person and can be classified as a pastoral, or a literary work describing a scene from country life. The eyewitness narration conveys the immediacy of personal experience, giving the reader the impression that the poet did not merely imagine the scene but actually lived it. However, Wordsworth’s sister, Dorothy, writes in her Recollections of a Tour in Scotland that the idea for “The Solitary Reaper” was suggested to William by an excerpt from Thomas Wilkinson’s Tour in Scotland. Since Wordsworth’s poem is not autobiographical, one can assume that the poet is adopting a persona, or taking on a fictional identity (usually referred to as the “speaker” of the poem).
“The Solitary Reaper” begins with the speaker asking the reader to “behold” the girl as she works in the field. The first stanza is a straightforward description of the scene. The girl is standing alone in the field, cutting grain, and singing a “melancholy strain.” Wordsworth emphasizes the girl’s solitude by using words such as “single,” “solitary,” “by herself,” and “alone.” Solitaries are common figures in Wordsworth’s poetry and are usually surrounded by a...
(The entire section is 451 words.)
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Forms and Devices (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
Wordsworth uses several poetic devices in “The Solitary Reaper.” Among them is apostrophe, which is defined as a figure of speech where the speaker of the poem addresses a dead or absent person, an abstraction, or an inanimate object. At the beginning of the poem the speaker invites the reader to “Behold, her single in the field,/ Yon solitary Highland Lass!” He further cautions the reader to “Stop here, or gently pass!” Although the reader is not present, the speaker’s imperative to “behold” the girl at her work puts the reader vicariously in the company of the speaker, as if they were walking the Highlands together. After the first four lines, the speaker shifts his attention away from the implied presence of the reader and does not allude to it again.
Metaphor, another common poetic device, is also found in “The Solitary Reaper.” The poet uses metaphor to compare two images without explicitly stating the comparison. For example, in the second stanza the speaker compares the song of the reaper to those of the nightingale and cuckoo. Although the three songs are fundamentally different from one another, they become metaphors for transcendence as they suggest to the speaker distant times and places. Because the maiden’s song is in a language unknown to the speaker, he is freed from trying to understand the words and is able to give his imagination full rein. The bird-songs and the girl’s song are thus intertwined, a further link...
(The entire section is 472 words.)