Why does Wordsworth call the solitary reaper's song 'A melancholy strain'?

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jmj616 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "The Solitary Reaper," William Wordsworth describes a scene from the Scottish highlands: a "solitary Highland Lass [girl].../Reaping and singing by herself."

The narrator of the poem refers to the girl's song as a "melancholy strain"; melancholy means sad, and strain is another word for tune or melody, so the poem is referring to the girl's song as a sad song.

The narrator seems to be, like Wordworth himself, an Englishman, so he does not understand the Scottish girl's song: "Will no one tell me what she sings?"

Still, the narrator thinks that the song seems to be sad.  Perhaps the girl sings of "old, unhappy, far-off things," or of "some natural sorrow, loss, or pain, / That has been, and may be again."

It could be that the narrator feels that the girl is probably sad because she is working alone.  Or perhaps he is merely projecting his own melancholy on to the image of the girl.  He continues to carry the girl's music in his heart "long after it was heard no more"; was he also thinking melancholy thoughts long before he saw her?

auroramunroe | Student

As the title suggests, the reaper is lonesome and the poet appreciates the fact that in spite of complaining of the hard work which she does,the reaper sings to her heart's content.But somewhere there is an inkling of sadness in her song.It could also be that since the poet does not understand the words of the poem,he assumes it to be a "melancholy strain".

luaizeuqah | Student

William Wordsworth called the song of solitary reaper as   'A melancholy strain' because a person who does the work of reaper has to work whole day and it is the tough work too. They have to work under hot climate and for a long time. Generally they dont have fans so one can easily understand their condition. Thatswhy looking at these conditions Sir William Wordsworth called the solitary reaper's song as a melancholy song and not a joyous song.

pranitingale | Student

I know exams are too important .. So, back to studies ! ! ¤ When poet was once on his way in scotland he got a girl reaping, she was singing a song ¤ because he do not belong to that place he doesnt know scottish. So, he couldnt understand what girl was singing therefore he guessed that it could be a sad song by hearing the girl's song tune. Hence he guessed reapers song as melancholy strain (sad song)...

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