The Solitary Reaper Questions and Answers
by William Wordsworth

Start Your Free Trial

How does the poem "The Solitary Reaper" reflect Wordsworth’s views on nature and man?

Expert Answers info

Jay Gilbert, Ph.D. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseCollege Lecturer

bookB.A. from University of Oxford

bookM.A. from University of Oxford

bookPh.D. from University of Leicester

calendarEducator since 2017

write2,289 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Law and Politics

This is an interesting poem in that, while it has a pastoral setting (the "Vale profound / overflowing with the sound" of the solitary maiden singing), Wordsworth actually suggests that the voice of the maiden is more beautiful even than "the Cucukoo-bird" or "Nightingale." This everyday sight and sound of a girl singing at her work, the poem suggests, is able to reach the sublime in its ordinariness, taking root in the poet:

The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more.
Nature, then, does not end, nor reach its pinnacle, with birdsong. On the contrary, this "solitary Highland lass" about her daily business represents perhaps the most beautiful thing in nature. The poet imagines her song, too, to be representative of any and every part of human existence: he wonders if she sings of "old, unhappy, far-off things" or simply "familiar matter of today." He does not discriminate between a song for "battles long ago" or one which deals with familiar matters—this does not affect the beauty of the song. This reflects Wordsworth's own concern, as stated in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads, to draw his inspiration from what was really around him, rather than from the lofty poetic subjects of death, God, and love only. The sublime song of the "Highland lass" is a representation of how such a mundane lyric can have the power to set nature "overflowing with the sound." The "theme" is unimportant: what is important is that "the Maiden sang / as if her song could have no ending," so imbued with the spirit of her inspiration that the strength of this spirit was than transferred, as it were, into the poet himself.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

mwestwood, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

bookM.A. from The University of Alabama

calendarEducator since 2006

write16,150 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

"The Solitary Reaper" reflects William Wordsworth's view that poetry should deal with common people and ordinary experiences, many of which are in communion with nature.

Certainly, the Romantic idealization of rural life is present in this poem in which the Scottish lass sings in Erse [Scottish Gaelic] as she bends over her sickle in a sweet voice whose melancholic strains touch the speaker. Even though he does not understand the words, the speaker is touched by the emotion her song conveys,

The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more.

Wordsworth's theme of the reverence for nature and the place of the individual in it is evinced in this lyrical ballad in which the girl is "Reaping and Singing." Further, his belief that poetry recalls the emotions of earlier experiences that can be shared anew in the delightful moment of an occasion in nature is certainly apparent as the speaker alludes to "Arabian sands," "Hebrides," and "battles long ago." Also, Wordsworth's association of the plaintive loveliness of the reaper's song with the cuckoo, a well-known image of transcendence in Romantic poetry, is indicative of his characteristic views.




Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial