The Solitary Reaper Questions and Answers
by William Wordsworth

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What is a short summary of the poem "The Solitary Reaper"?

In "The Solitary Reaper," the speaker asks the reader to listen carefully to a Scottish girl who is singing to herself while reaping alone in a field. The speaker is enamored with the girl's voice, insisting that she sounds better than the birds in spring. He desperately wants to know the meaning of her sorrowful song, as he can't quite make out the words. In the end, he resigns himself to never knowing but continues to think of her song, even as he is too far to hear it.

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In "The Solitary Reaper," the speaker is walking in the Scottish Highlands when he is arrested and riveted by the song of a young Highland woman who is out by herself harvesting grain. He perceives her as creature of nature and likens her song to that of the cuckoo and nightingale. Yet, he says, hers is more beautiful than theirs. He can't discern the words of her song but is transfixed by the melancholy tune. In later days, the memory of the solitary reaper and her haunting song continues to feed the speaker's soul.

This short poem is quintessential Wordworth, touching on many of his favorite recurring themes. First, it is about a simple, unsung commoner, a laboring woman far from any place of power; it is a celebration of the extraordinary in the ordinary. Second, it celebrates nature and a simple pleasure. Third, it provides the speaker with a memory to hold and treasure. Finally, it is written in simple, everyday language.

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Here is a stanza-by-stanza summary of Wordsworth's early nineteenth-century poem.

1. The speaker invites passers-by to turn their attention to a young Scottish woman working alone in a field. She is harvesting grain and tying it into bundles, and as she does so, she is singing a sad song that fills the valley. The speaker advises that people should either stop and listen or pass quietly.

2. The speaker observes that her voice and song were beautiful and more welcoming than a nightingale's song would have been to nomads in the deserts of Arabia or a cuckoo's song in the spring that breaks the quiet isolation of Scotland's westernmost islands.

3. The speaker speculates on why her song is so sad. He wonders if it is inspired by ancient battles or tragedies, or something more everyday—perhaps a loss or grief that is an inevitable and repeating pattern in life.

4. The speaker says that he stood and listened to her song as she continued to work in the valley. As he moved on and began climbing the hills surrounding the valley, he carried the memory of her song with him, long after he could actually hear it.

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In "The Solitary Reaper," a young Highland girl is reaping alone and singing to herself while she works. The poet asks us to listen carefully, because the whole valley is filled to overflowing with the sound of her singing. We are invited to either stop and listen to her sad song or to gently pass by, so as not to disturb her.

He goes on to say that no nightingale ever sang a more welcoming song to bands of tired wanderers in an Arabian desert. The poet asserts that the beauty of the girl's singing exceeds that of the cuckoo bird's in the spring-time. Her singing is also the only thing which breaks the silence of the seas among the Hebride islands. The Hebrides are a group of islands (consisting of the Inner and Outer Hebrides) off the north-west coast of Scotland.

The poet begs someone to tell him what the girl is singing about. Receiving no answer, he muses that, perhaps, she is singing about old sorrows, or battles of long ago, or more mundane concerns, or even some suffering which she has endured and may endure again.

He eventually resigns himself to the fact that he may never find out the theme of her never-ending song. Nevertheless, he asserts that her singing has so captured his imagination that he will bear it in his heart long after it is heard no more.

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