How and why does the poet compare the reaper's song in "The Solitary Reaper"?

2 Answers

accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The speaker of this poem tries to describe the qualities of the singing of the reaper which impresses him so greatly in the second stanza. However, he finds that even the greatest examples of pure music and sound that he can think of do not do justice to the pure beauty of the reaper's voice that he is listening to now. Let us examine the second stanza in detail:
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.
Two birds that are normally considered to be symbols of the beauty of music, the nightingale and the cuckoo, are therefore dismissed as being suitable comparisons to the music that the speaker is hearing right now. The comparisons that the poet therefore draws only serve to emphasise the way in which the singing of the reaper represents an unearthly beauty that does not find a parallel in real life.
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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In "The Solitary Reaper" the speaker can find no comparison that is adequate to the lovely and emotive quality of the voice of the "Highland Lass" who "cuts and binds the grain" alone in a field, because it is even more emotive and lyrical than the music of songbirds.

The song that the maiden sings in Erse, the Gaelic language of Scotland, has a lovely, lyrical sound that recalls the songs of the nightingale and the cuckoo. But for the speaker, it is even more "welcome" and emotionally stirring than the notes of the euphonious voices of these songbirds:

No Nightingale did even chaunt
More welcome notes to weary bands...
A voice so thrilling ne'er was heard....

Interestingly Wordsworth did not base his beautiful and stirring poem on his own experience. Instead the words of this poem were suggested to him by a passage he had read in Thomas Wilkinson's Tours to the British Mountains (1824) in which Wilkinson once observed a young woman in the Highlands who was reaping alone and singing in Erse as she bent over her sickle. Wilkinson noted that "her strains were tenderly melancholy, and felt delicious, long after they were heard no more."

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