The Solitary Reaper

by William Wordsworth
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What is the central idea of the poem "Solitary Reaper" by William Wordsworth?

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The poem expresses the theme that simple moments can have extreme beauty and can soothe our souls for a long time afterwards if we stop and pay attention.

In this poem, the song of a woman reaping by herself in a field in the Scottish highlands catches the attention of the narrator, who is hiking nearby. He has to make a decision to keep moving or to pause and listen: 

Stop here, or gently pass! 

This seemingly simple choice is important to the narrator. He decides to stop and listen and doesn't regret this decision. Because he concentrates on hearing her, he is emotionally moved by the beauty of the reaper's sad, lamenting voice filling the air. 

The narrator doesn't understand the words the reaper sings, so can only speculate what they mean, but this doesn't matter to him. The reaping woman's song conveys strong emotion and becomes, to the narrator, a sublime ("thrilling" and inspiring) part of nature.

Wordsworth (along with Coleridge) hoped to elevate everyday experience and the common laboring person in the minds of his readers, as well as to celebrate nature itself. This poem does both. Wordsworth, as he stated in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads, the book of poetry credited with launching the Romantic movement in England, also defined poetry as a "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" recollected in tranquility. At the end of this poem, he expresses a version of that idea: 

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


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The narrator of the poem is Wordsworth himself, and he is describing a scene that he supposedly saw while on his walking tour of Scotland.  I say supposedly because Wordsworth did write the poem 2 years after completing his tour, and he also did explain that he got the idea from a sentence in a friend's book.  

"This poem was suggested by a beautiful sentence in a Manuscript Tour in Scotland written by a friend, the last line being taken from it verbatim."

I guess not all poetry is inspired by beautiful scenery.  Oh well.  

The basic idea of this poem is that Wordsworth is walking along a path in Scotland.  He sees a lone woman reaping in the fields.  As she works, she sings.  Her song is more lovely than just about anything else that Wordsworth has heard.  It's more beautiful than birds singing (which for a Romantic poet is quite a thing).  The third stanza is about Wordsworth wanting to know what the song is about.  Is it old or new? Is it about far away battles or normal stuff?  In the fourth stanza, Wordsworth says that the song topic doesn't really matter because it is so beautiful.  How beautiful?  So beautiful that he now carries the song in his heart even though he can no longer hear her voice.  

If by "central idea" you mean major theme, I believe the poem points out the importance of seeing amazing beauty in normal, everyday, natural occurrences.  The poem is about a woman working in a field, singing.  I wouldn't think twice about it.  But to Wordsworth, a Romantic poet, that scene is practically transcendent in what it has to teach mankind about the beauty of the natural and simple world.  

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