“The Solitary Reaper” is a short lyrical ballad, composed of thirty-two lines and divided into four stanzas,
written by English Romantic poet William Wordsworth, and it is one of his best-known works. This poem was written during the poet's Scottish tour of 1803. The Solitary Reaper illustrates the beauty and importance of music found in nature and the solitude of the countryside.
He tells of an experience of watching the "solitary highland lass" working in some fields and singing. Wordsworth is in awe and wonder of the women's voice and the tone of the poem is happy and it almost is a poem of praise. The words of the reaper's song are incomprehensible to the speaker, so his attention is free to focus on the tone, expressive beauty, and the blissful mood it creates in him.
The poem is written in the first person and can be classified as a pastoral, or a literary work describing a scene from country life. The eyewitness narration conveys the immediacy of personal experience, giving the reader the impression that the poet did not merely imagine the scene but actually lived it.
This is an important experience for the speaker because it is transformative. It is transcendent; it changes the observer, and it changes the scene. It is in many ways a classic example of a moment of Romantic artistic inspiration. The speaker has to have seen workers before, but something in that one moment freezes him, making him call out " BEHOLD her, single in the field, Yon solitary Highland Lass!"
The isolation of the girl makes the speaker realize his own isolation. Her song makes him realize how art (music) transforms daily labor; he does the same by capturing the girl in a poem. Finally, the memory is timeless, even though the girl, the moment, the song, and the experience are all ephemeral, trapped in time and soon passing. He's living a paradox.
At the beginning of the poem, the poet draws the reader's attention to the solitary, highland lass, reaping grains at the field. He asks us to watch her carry out her grain reaping and binding or else, to depart from this scene, gently, i.e., silently, so as not to disturb the lonely reaper.
During her work, the poet describes to his readers: how eloquently she sings a song, whose meaning he knows not- but yet, can feel the song touch his heart, though he may not comprehend the real intent of the lyrics, the language being unknown to him. The poet, with artistic elements of poetry, compares the song of the Highland Lass with the relatively dim sweetness of other objects and he seems to be successful in his work of contrast, but despite his comparisons, he wonders what the meaning of the song might be.
At first the poet compares her song with that of a nightingale. But the poet says the nightingale could not have sung with more articulation. The poet, with a good effort, represents this theme to us, readers, by placing the nightingale in the position of a place of oasis in the Arabian Desert, where a group of singers rest. It is in this moment that the nightingale might sing them a note, but that could not surpass in quality to that of the reaper's. Again, the reaper's song, has been compared with that of spring-time cuckoo. The poet finds her song reaching places far-off, altering the prevailing silence and leaving its marks to as far as that of the farthest islands of the Hebrides.
After all these appreciation and comments on the eloquence of the song, the poet now comes to a question, asking: what might be the interpretation of the music? When he seems not to find anyone to interpret it for him, he himself gives a genre to it and brings out the aspects that the song could bear- the song might be, according to him, a mournful song for the old, unhappy things of far away and ancient battles. Then, he wonders if the song is one that describes an ordinary day to day life, conducted with old emotions of melancholy and distress that could re-occur.
The poet still gazes on at the reaper, watching her work, hearing her sing the epic song, which gave an ultimate thrill to the very heart of the poet, who listened with ears as grateful as ever and carried the song's lyrics in his mind, which lasted long after the song could have been hear no more.
This poem of idyllic setting is a wonderful note of appreciation and at the same time a deep feeling of unknown emotions for an unknown song by a reaper at solitude.