The Solitary Reaper "For Old, Unhappy, Far-off Things, And Battles Long Ago"
by William Wordsworth

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"For Old, Unhappy, Far-off Things, And Battles Long Ago"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

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Context: "The Solitary Reaper" was inspired both by a visit to Scotland in 1803 and by a beautiful sentence in a MS Tour in Scotland written by a friend, Thomas Wilkinson: "Passed a female who was reaping alone; she sung in Erse as she bended over the sickle; the sweetest human voice I ever heard: her strains were tenderly melancholy, and felt delicious long after they were heard no more." Wordsworth describes the emotional exhilaration he experiences on beholding a solitary Highland lass reaping and singing by herself. Unable to understand the words of the "voice so thrilling," the poet contemplates the possible subjects of her song–the "plaintive numbers" of past miseries or present woes, the poignant sorrow of loss or pain. Whatever the theme, the poet universalizes the emotion of her song and experiences a common bond of sympathy with her plight:

Will no one tell me what she sings?–Perhaps the plaintive numbers flowFor old, unhappy, far-off things,And battles long ago:Or is it some more humble lay,Familiar matter of to-day?Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain,That has been, and may be again?