Solitary Reaper: Critical Analysis

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Last updated on October 24th, 2022 at 05:14 pm

It’s difficult to imagine Wordsworth’s poetry without connotations of nature and natural life.

Solitary Reaper: Critical Analysis

The poem is a picture of rustic life and its poignant beauty. The speaker recounts his experience of chancing upon a humming maiden who was reaping crops alone. It strikes one as uncommon. It begs the question, why was the reaper alone? Was it deliberate on the part of the poet? If so, what could his motives be? Perhaps the reaper represents the human soul when it’s left to become one with nature. The solitude in this poem is unique because we don’t know what the song actually means. We, as readers, are not told if the song she’s singing is of hope or despair. However, the plaintive tone may hint at a more somber subject. Perhaps this, too, was deliberate. In this sense, we can trace a pattern between the solitude of the soul when left alone with only nature or the natural world as companions. This is what lends the poem its beauty and stirs the poet’s heart.

The poem is attuned to the realm of sounds, be it the ‘melancholy strain’ of the young reaper or the sounds of various birds. In this sense, it is intensely rooted in the sensual world. The ears become a strong channel to the heart and mind, and together they create impressions that become unforgettable for the poet.

Fall appears as a theme as well as of critical importance. Fall or Autumn signifies the end of summer and the beginning of winter. It’s a season of harvesting, but it’s also a season of endings. Just as it brings joy in the form of harvest yet, it also marks the beginning of the end of the year. Metaphorically, it’s the last stage before death. Death as a reaper with a sickle is a popular trope in literature and mythology. In this case, the poem is representative of the inevitability of death.

The poem is also famously known as an anticipator of Keats’ ‘ode to Autumn.

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Solitary Reaper: Poetic Devices

“O listen! for the Vale profound

Is overflowing with the sound.”

This is an instance of Apostrophe. The Apostrophe is a figure of speech where the speaker addresses an absent person or an inanimate or abstract object. In this stanza, the narrator addresses an unknown, possibly abstract entity to express the beauty of the song that fills the Vale.

Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow

For old, unhappy, far-off things,

And battles long ago:”

This is an example of a Metaphor. The ‘plaintive numbers’ or the melancholy tunes of the solitary reaper are likened to a river that winds through the field, even across the Hebrides, dispensing the enchanting song of the young girl.

Rhyme Scheme:

The poem is made up of 4 stanzas, containing eight lines each.  It is composed in iambic tetrameter. The rhyme scheme followed by the poem is as follows-  abcbddee/ababccdd/ababccdd/abcbddee.

Solitary Reaper: Central Idea

The central idea of the poem seems to be the effect the plaintive song of the reaper had on the narrator. The melody touched the narrator in such a way that he was convinced that the song was an eternal one. And for him, it was eternal, for he carried the song in his heart even after he had long left the place.

Solitary Reaper: Theme

Nature: Like all of Wordsworth’s poetry, ‘The Solitary Reaper’ is innately linked to nature. Nature is manifested in the poem in the varied forms of the immense Vale, the birds and their songs, and the Oriental image of Arabian deserts.

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Memory: This theme is one of the integral themes. Nature and memory are intrinsic to each other in Wordsworth. Natural beauty and the moving melody leave strong impressions on the poet’s memory. They act as catalysts for the imagination and go on to become the source of his inspiration for years to come.

Pastoral- ‘The Solitary Reaper’ has a pastoral aspect. The vast expanse of a harvest field where a young maiden reaps the fruits of nature, all the while humming to herself some exquisite song, posits this poem in a pastoral frame. In this case, the poem is instinctively a Romantic one. There are allusions to pastoral motifs like harvesting, melancholy tunes, rural landscapes, and birds of the song (the nightingale, the cuckoo).

Autumn/Fall: Autumn or fall, also popularly known as the harvesting season, is one of the themes of this poem. The poem centers on this important detail because the reason for the young maiden to be out in the fields singing all by herself is because she is immersed in the job of reaping.

Music: Music is, of course, a theme. The very melody the girl sings forms the main subject of the poem. It fills the poem as the maiden’s song fills the Vale with its lilting tune.

Loneliness: One of the underrated themes of the poem is loneliness or solitude. The solitary figure of the reaper strikes a lasting picture in this poem, and the reason it has a singular effect on the readers is that she is the only living person in the field. It intensifies the focus on her and offers a contrast from the otherwise unpopulated area.

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Sorrow/grief/sadness: The poem, like the song, has a touch of sadness. The sadness is derived either from the solitude expressed in the poem or from the unknown subject of the reaper’s song.

Solitary Reaper: Tone

The tone is plaintive, like the song the reaper sings. The poet imbibes the haunting sadness with fond remembrance. Hence, the tone is plaintive and reminiscent. A hint of sadness punctures the narrative.

The poem packs into its four stanzas all of the major Romantic sentiments, be it the beauty of nature, the reflective mood, and the appreciation of melancholic strains. Above all, it highly relies on the act of memory to keep alive the momentary incidents or experiences that often leave a deep impression on us.

You can also check out the summary of Daffodils by Wordsworth.

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