The Solitary Reaper

by William Wordsworth

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Why does William Wordsworth say, "Stop here, or gently pass!" in "The Solitary Reaper"?

In "The Solitary Reaper," Wordsworth says, "Stop here, or gently pass!" because he has to make a decision about whether to keep going or to stop and listen to a reaper's song. He chooses to listen, and he is richly rewarded.

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Wordsworth's speaker makes this statement in the first stanza, speaking to himself. He says he has seen a young woman "reaping and singing by herself." He then says to himself, after the hard stop of a semicolon, "Stop here, or gently pass!"

He says this to himself because he has to make a decision. He can stop and listen, or he can quietly pass by the reaper, missing her singing. As he notes, he stops, saying, "O listen!"

He is well rewarded for taking out the time to stop and listen to the song the young woman sings as she reaps. It is so beautiful the speaker feels transported. To him, the singer becomes a creature of nature, like a bird but with a song even more beautiful than that of the nightingale or the cuckoo. The speaker is well rewarded for stopping and listening. Although he cannot hear the words of her song, the haunting, "plaintive" melody moves his soul. The song is also not only a momentary pleasure for him but a memory he will carry with him. He says,

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

The poem is a quintessential Wordsworth piece. It exalts a common laborer, a woman reaping a crop. This is the kind of person largely overlooked in poetry before Wordsworth and Romanticism appeared on the scene. He elevates her into something lovely and natural by comparing her song to that of birds. He also shows how a simple event can live on in memory, providing repeated solace and delight.

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Why does William Wordsworth say "stop here, or gently pass" in "The Solitary Reaper"?

This apparently simple poem is more complex than it seems at first glance. By using the imperative in the first two stanzas, Wordsworth introduces ambiguity into the opening lines: is he addressing us as readers or is he talking to himself in the lonely Highlands vale—or is he doing both? It is up to the reader to decide, but the deep interiority of the poem and the switch to the first-person pronoun in the last two stanzas supports an interpretation of Wordsworth addressing both the reader he invites into the scene and himself. Like Frost in "The Road Less Traveled," the narrator in this line is at a moment of decision: should he "stop" in his journey or "gently [quietly] pass" by the reaping woman? That this is an important decision to him (perhaps as in "The Road Less Traveled" the narrator has places to go?) is indicated by the exclamation point at the end of the line.
By the next stanza, the narrator has clearly made his decision (or had it made for him by the beauty of the arresting, melancholy song), for he writes the following:
Alone she cuts and binds the grain, 
And sings a melancholy strain; 
O listen! for the Vale profound 
Is overflowing with the sound. 
The narrator has made his choice. He has stopped, and invites—nay, implores and commands us—to join him, to "listen!" The solitary reaper's song is...

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now, for this moment, the most important thing in the world to the narrator: that he is deeply emotionally riveted to the spot is emphasized by the "O" before listen and the second exclamation point after the phrase, which stops us as the song has stopped the traveler.
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Why does William Wordsworth say "stop here, or gently pass" in "The Solitary Reaper"?

The line you're referring to occurs within the first few lines of Wordsworth's "The Solitary Reaper," and it helps to put it in context:

Behold her, single in the field, 
Yon solitary Highland Lass! 
Reaping and singing by herself; 
Stop here, or gently pass! (1-4)
At first glance, that fourth line is a little strange; who is Wordsworth talking to, and what is he trying to say? What's interesting here is that, depending on how you interpret the scene, Wordsworth is actually talking to the reader, and he's basically telling the reader to avoid disturbing the solitary reaper. By saying "Stop here, or gently pass," Wordsworth is telling us to appreciate the scene, or move along quietly. By addressing the reader more or less directly, he puts us into the poem in a very intimate fashion. As such, we get the sense that we're actually walking around the highlands with Wordsworth and witnessing the solitary reaper alongside him. Line 4 is a a deft technique that makes us experience Wordsworth's poetic vision in a vivid fashion. 
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Whom is the poet Wordsworth addressing when he writes "stop here or gently pass," in the poem "The Solitary Reaper"?

This is one of Wordsworth's famous poems that describes the sight of a female reaper reaping in fields. Wordsworth is so entranced by the sight that he stops and stares and reflects on the sight. The words that your question refer to come in the first stanza, and presumably are mentioned to any who are with him or who may be passing on the same path. Note their meaning: Wordsworth is so wrapped up in the vision of the reaper and her singing that he doesn't want any interruption to alert her to his presence and to break the spell that she casts:

O listen! for the vale profound

Is overflowing with the sound.

Thus, although it is not specified who the words are addressed to, we can infer that they are spoken to either companions who are with Wordsworth or any other rambler who happened to be walking in the same spot.

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