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

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator
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 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.
iandavidclark3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.