What is the subject matter of the poem, "The Solitary Reaper" by William Wordsworth?  

Expert Answers

Want to remove ads?

Get ad-free questions with an eNotes 48-hour free trial.

Try It Free No Thanks
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

William Wordsworth's "The Solitary Reaper" is a pastoral, a poem that describes country life.  Wordsworth depicts a girl in the Highlands of Scotland as she stands alone in a field, harvesting grain.  Her solitude is emphasized by her singing of a "melancholy strain."  Isolated from society, the girl is tied intimately to the earth; as the girl sings and the melody fills the lonely valley, she virtually becomes submerged in nature.

Transfixed by the melody, which seems to traverse all time and space; the speaker associates the girl's voice with birds and thinks that hers is sweeter.  For a time, in the third stanza, the speaker transcends his existence as he, too, is meditative and one with nature.  This transcendence is typically Wordsworth, who felt that the mind was the main "haunt and region of [his] song."  Thus, the tension between the objective describer of the natural scene and the subjective shaper of sensory experience is at the heart of this poem. 

Finally, in the fourth stanza he abruptly shifts his attention to the scene before him of the reaper.  As he mounts the hill, the transcendent is past, and his observations are again objective:

What'er the theme the Maiden sang,...

I saw her singing at her work,

but the speaker bears "the music in my heart" long after he hears it.

kc4u | Student

Wordsworths's famous lyric, The Solitary Reaper is one of his representative nature poems highlighting the serene amplitude of nature's beauty and the influence of nature on the mind and morals of man.

The Highland girl singing a 'melancholy strain' all alone is a typical Romanticist foregrounding of the theme of solitude in the midst of nature's graceful bounty. Wordsworth associates the girl's song with the 'welcome notes' of the nightingale and the thrilling vernal melody of the cuckoo, the birds being symbolic of spiritual transcendence that Romantic Imagination had sought for.

The poet is in a confusion whether the sad song of the reaper girl relates to the historical sadness of the heroic variety or to the contemporary sadness of the sub-altern. Whatever be the subject of the girl's song, it produces a magical impact on the poet. He passes on bearing the lingering impression of the melody in his mind.

Wordsworth seems to identify the solitary reaping girl with the bountiful solitude of nature, and its lasting effect on the poet's mind is the effect of the spirit of nature on man.