The Solitary Reaper by William Wordsworth

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How does Wordsworth describe the song of the Solitary Reaper?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The narrator describes the reaper's song as a "melancholy strain" and "plaintive." While he cannot distinguish the words of her song, they sound sad, as if she is singing of loss or pain. He likens her singing favorably to the songs of the nightingale and the cuckoo, both birds that often sing alone. The nightingale is known for its beautiful song, but here, the narrator says the solitary reaper's song is more arresting than even that.

By taking a common, laboring woman and comparing her to a bird, a creature of nature, Wordsworth is depicting her as a thing of beauty in harmony with her environment. This is reinforced by the fact that narrator cannot make out the words: the beauty of the song transcends human language. Her song is sad, but because it is melancholic it is tinged with a bittersweet beauty that touches and thrills the listener's soul. 

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Payal Khullar eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In Wordsworth’s Solitary Reaper, the speaker of the poem finds a maiden working all “by herself” in the field and singing a melodious song. Wordsworth describes the lonesome maiden’s song as sad and beautiful. He compares her voice with the beautiful cries of the nightingale in the “Arabian sands” and the cuckoo-bird during spring in the “farthest” islands of "Hebrides." The speaker who beholds the maiden singing a sweet melody in her voice “so thrilling" feels emotionally exhilarated and completely moved by the beauty and intensity of the song. Although he is unable to understand the meaning of the words of the song, as the maiden sings the song in a language unknown to him, he tries to connect with her emotions and projects a few possible interpretations of the song in his mind. He contemplates that the song is possibly about “old, unhappy, far-off things," “And battles long ago,” or “Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain."

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