The Solitary Reaper

by William Wordsworth

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The Solitary Reaper Summary

The Solitary Reaper” by William Wordsworth is a poem about a young woman from the Scottish Highlands who is singing as she reaps the grain in her field.

  • The speaker of the poem cannot understand the words of the song, but he muses on what the subject of the sad song could be.
  • He watches her singing over her work for quite some time, remaining absolutely still all the while so as not to disturb her or disrupt her song.
  • Finally, he climbs the hill to leave her valley, but as he does so, he continues to carry the music with him for a long time.

Summary

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Last Updated on June 15, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 334

The speaker of this poem by William Wordsworth sees a young “Highland lass” (woman from the Scottish Highlands) singing as she reaps the grain in her field. He tells readers that they must either stop here and listen or pass by gently so as not to disturb her and her song. The woman works alone, cutting and binding her crop, and the song she sings is rather sad. It fills the entire valley where she works. The speaker claims that no nightingale has ever sounded so welcome to weary travelers in “Arabian sands” (when they hear this bird, they know they will get to stop for the night and rest), and the cuckoo has never thrilled a sailor (who would hear the bird and know that land was near) among the remote Scottish isles called the Hebrides as much as this woman’s voice affects the speaker. It feels incredibly welcome to him, offering him a sense of relief.

The speaker cannot understand the words of the song that the woman sings, and he wishes that someone could tell him. He muses for a while on what the subject of the sad song could be, thinking that it might be a remembrance of some tragic long-past war or harder times, or it could describe something more modern and usual, or it could even emphasize some real sorrow or pain felt by the singer and that could be felt again in the future. Whatever the subject is, he says, the Scottish woman sings the song as if it would never end. He watches her singing over her work, over the bending sickle, for quite some time, remaining absolutely still all the while so as not to disturb her or disrupt her song. Finally, he climbs the hill to leave her valley, but as he does so, he continues to carry the music with him for a long time; even after he can no longer actually hear it with his ears, it remains in his heart.

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