Wordsworth’s speaker’s first thoughts when he sees and hears the solitary reaper working in a highland vale is whether he should stop or “gently pass.” The melancholy strains of her song arrest him, however, and he stands and listens to her.
Thus begins a quintessential Romantic poem. The song of the reaper makes her a part of nature, transcending her humanity. Her song is more beautiful than that of the nightingale. The narrator can’t make out the words, but can speculate about the bittersweet subject of her song. The young reaper becomes exalted above her station as a poor farm worker because of her sublime music.
After standing transfixed and listening, the speaker moves on. However, as he notes at the end of the poem, the memory of that moment sticks with him, providing him with repeated happiness and solace.
The short poem achieves several Romantic goals: first, it expresses emotions recollected in tranquility. Second, it elevates and casts in a positive light the lives of simple working people, in this case a lone farm worker. Third, it speaks to the beauty and healing power of nature, implying that people are more sublime the more they approach a simple, natural state. Finally, it speaks to the power of recollection: the speaker’s simple but powerful experience continues to enrich his life.