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Shvoong Home>Arts & Humanities>The Melancholy Strain in “the Solitary Reaper” Summary

The Melancholy Strain in “the Solitary Reaper”

Book Summary   by:suyam     Original Author: William Wordsworth
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The melancholy strain in “The Solitary Reaper”

A lyric by William Wordsworth


William Wordsworth is known as a great lover of Nature. His impressive and philosophical thoughts are to be really admired in this poem.

Wordsworth clearly exhibits the effective use of poetic devices such as personification, imagery, repetition, rhyme and tone to successfully communicate his ideas with the readers; not only as a story but also to convey a message. The tone used throughout the poem is filled with bliss and contentment.

The poem describes a very unique experience, the poet encounters one day in a field. The poet, during his visit to Scotland, came across a lovely girl, reaping the grains in a corn field. She was all alone in the field, singing a melancholy song. Her lovely person and her sweet song had a deep impression in the mind of the poet and moved him to compose the lyric under the title “The Solitary Reaper”. Wordsworth portrayed her as a part of the beautiful scene of nature.

The poet stumbles upon the young girl, working alone, reaping, in the fields of Scotland – “highland lass”. Wordsworth effectively uses aural and visual imagery to convey his appreciation for the beautiful song she is singing, her expressive beauty and the mood it is creating within him.

The girl was reaping the grain in the field and was singing a song. The poet could not comprehend the meaning of the song, as it was in a language, which the poet could not understand. However, the poet tries to conjecture about the themes of the song. Given its melancholy tune, the poet feels that the theme of the song might be of some natural sorrow, loss or pain or of battles fought long ago.

The poet guessed that the song may relate to an old tragic event that would have happened or it may be some recent calamity or disaster in her life. Whatsoever be the reason underlining the melancholy strain in the song, the poet is bewitched by the thrilling notes of the solitary reaper. The tune was so powerful that the deep valley was seemed overflowing with the song of the reaper in solitude.

The flow of melody was so sweet and seamless that the poet stood stand still and spell bound and listened to the song in solitude. Not only that, he requested the passersby, not to intrude in to the solitude and go without making any noise.

The poet stood still and listened to that golden voice for some time. After words, when he was moving forward in the valley, he could not hear that song any longer. But he was still feeling the sweet vibrations of that music in his heart. The sweet memory of that song had become a permanent source of joy.

We can compare the theme of the song with that of “Tintern Abbey”. In this poem, Wordsworth was able to look on the nature and hear the “human music”; in this poem “The Solitary Reaper”, the poet is able to enjoy the real time human music encountered in a beloved rustic atmosphere. The song of the girl reaping in the field is incomprehensible to him (“a Highland Lass”, she is singing in Scots), lest, he appreciates the tone, its expressive beauty and the mood it creates with in him, rather than its explicit content.

To a reader, the poem ponders the limitations of language, as he says “Will no one tells me what she sings?. However, Wordsworth could identify spontaneous overflowing of the feeling of the melancholy tone of the song and its beauty.

The poem “The Solitary Reaper” may be compared with Keats’s two great introspection on art, the “Ode to a Nightingale,” in which the poet drenches himself in the music of a bird in the forest and “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” in which the poet is unable to ascertain the stories behind the shapes on an urn. It can also be compared with Keats’s “Ode to Autumn” with the figure of an emblematic girl reaping in the fields.

The imagery used by Wordsworth has compared the solitary reaper’s song to some other wonderful melodies. It is very nice for the reader to enjoy the song of the Solitary Reaper with that of Nightingale and Cuckoo. The comparison is excellent. Imagine a song that sounds like ‘nightingales singing welcome notes to weary travelers in a shady haunt, among Arabian sands’…or a song ‘in springtime from the cuckoo bird, breaking the silence of the seas’. The reader of the song can really visualize such imaginations in his mind. Such perceptions leave, no doubt, about how good the reaper’s song must have been, in the mind of the poet.


And, at last, after all the comparisons and conjectures, the poet continues on his way, bearing the song in his heart. In fact, author of this article, when he was a student in a college, enjoyed the lecture given by my English professor and the theme of the song is still in my memory.

The poet concludes that even if he cannot grasp the meaning of the song, he finds the tune touching his heart and lingering in his mind for ever, giving him joy, despite its melancholy nature

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Tags: Solitude, Reaper, Melancholy, Nightingale, Cuckoo

Published: November 18, 2012   
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