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Wordsworth’s Poetry

William Wordsworth

“The Solitary Reaper”

“I wandered lonely as a cloud”

Study Questions

Summary

The poet orders his listener to behold a “solitary Highland lass” reaping and singing by herself in a field. He says that anyone passing by should either stop here, or “gently pass” so as not to disturb her. As she “cuts and binds the grain” she “sings a melancholy strain,” and the valley overflows with the beautiful, sad sound. The speaker says that the sound is more welcome than any chant of the nightingale to weary travelers in the desert, and that the cuckoo-bird in spring never sang with a voice so thrilling.

Impatient, the poet asks, “Will no one tell me what she sings?” He speculates that her song might be about “old, unhappy, far-off things, / And battles long ago,” or that it might be humbler, a simple song about “matter of today.” Whatever she sings about, he says, he listened “motionless and still,” and as he traveled up the hill, he carried her song with him in his heart long after he could no longer hear it.

Form

The four eight-line stanzas of this poem are written in a tight iambic tetrameter. Each follows a rhyme scheme of ABABCCDD, though in the first and last stanzas the “A” rhyme is off (field/self and sang/work).

Commentary

Along with “I wandered lonely as a cloud,” “The Solitary Reaper” is one of Wordsworth’s most famous post-Lyrical Ballads lyrics. In “Tintern Abbey” Wordsworth said that he was able to look on nature and hear “human music”; in this poem, he writes specifically about real human music encountered in a beloved, rustic setting. The song of the young girl reaping in the fields is incomprehensible to him (a “Highland lass,” she is likely singing in Scots), and what he appreciates is its tone, its expressive beauty, and the mood it creates within him, rather than its explicit content, at which he can only guess. To an extent, then, this poem ponders the limitations of language, as it does in the third stanza (“Will no one tell me what she sings?”). But what it really does is praise the beauty of music and its fluid expressive beauty, the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling” that Wordsworth identified at the heart of poetry.

By placing this praise and this beauty in a rustic, natural setting, and by and by establishing as its source a simple rustic girl, Wordsworth acts on the values of Lyrical Ballads. The poem’s structure is simple—the first stanza sets the scene, the second offers two bird comparisons for the music, the third wonders about the content of the songs, and the fourth describes the effect of the songs on the speaker—and its language is natural and unforced. Additionally, the final two lines of the poem (“Its music in my heart I bore / Long after it was heard no more”) return its focus to the familiar theme of memory, and the soothing effect of beautiful memories on human thoughts and feelings.

“The Solitary Reaper” anticipates Keats’s two great meditations on art, the “Ode to a Nightingale,” in which the speaker steeps himself in the music of a bird in the forest—Wordsworth even compares the reaper to a nightingale—and “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” in which the speaker is unable to ascertain the stories behind the shapes on an urn. It also anticipates Keats’s “Ode to Autumn” with the figure of an emblematic girl reaping in the fields.

More Help

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the world is too much with us

by anil1573, September 02, 2013

The following lines are omitted here -
Nor heed nor see what things they be,
But from these create he can,
Forms more real than living man,
Nurslings of immortality!
This is the poem of nineteen lines.
the world is Too Much with Us , means the people of this world are engrossed in the futile pleasures of this material world.
late and soon _ all the time, throughout their entire life,
get-earn
they earn and spend money over futile pleasures of this mortal world.
We lay waste our pow... Read more

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40 out of 58 people found this helpful

WilliamWilliam Wordsworth as a nature lover poet with reference to critical appreciation of his poem 'Tintern Abbey'-

by Shehanaz, December 16, 2013

…ON BASIS OF REFERENCE TO -‘Composed A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting The Banks of the Wye During A Tour July 13, 1798’.

The scene is in the narrow gorge of the river, Wye, somewhere between Tintern and Monmouth. Wordsworth had visited it in the summer 1793. In July, 1798, he again visited it with his sister, after five years of absence. Many reminiscences of the earlier visit were recalled. “The peaceful charm of the scene prompted him to retrospect of the long, debt which he owed to Nature;” and he reviewed t... Read more

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14 out of 18 people found this helpful

Some notes and questions

by goodnight_nobody, February 27, 2014

Tintern Abbey Notes

He’s returning in 1798 after 5 years—in that time he’s left England, been moved by the French Revolution, fallen in love, married and been forced to leave and return. He no longer feels the same way about home. The sycamore tree—not native to England, also tough and adaptible.

The scene: Wye river valley, border between England and Wales (between home and a wilder, foreign place). It’s spring—the seasons like clothing, “clad” in green that erases human boundaries (seasons are human inventions... Read more

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10 out of 11 people found this helpful

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