"The Solitary Reaper" is a ballad by English Romantic poet William Wordsworth, and one of his best-known works. In it, Wordsworth describes in the first person, present tense, how he is amazed and moved by a Scottish Highlands girl who sings as she reaps grain in a solitary field. Composed in 1805, the poem was first published in Poems, in Two Volumes (1807). Each of its four stanzas is eight lines long and written in iambic tetrameter, with a rhyme scheme of a-b-a-b-c-c-d-d, though in the first and last stanzas the "A" rhyme is off.
'"The Solitary Reaper" is one of Wordsworth's most famous post-Lyrical Ballads lyrics. 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 functions to 'praise the beauty of music and its fluid expressive beauty, the "spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling" that Wordsworth identified at the heart of poetry.'
Then he dismisses his own musings -- "Whate'ver the theme," he says, "the Maiden sang / As if her song could have no ending" -and refocuses his attention on the song. He listens, "motionless and still", before finally mounting the hill and leaving the solitary reaper, still singing, behind. Though his ears cannot hear the song anymore, the sound of the Highland Lass's music will forever be a fresh and evocative memory in his heart.
In his preface to Lyrical Ballads (1798), Wordsworth maintained that poetry should not rely on artificial diction for its effort. Rather, it should be written in more ordinary language and simpler form so that all classes might appreciate it. "The Solitary Reaper" exemplifies this belief. Wordsworth, his sister Dorothy, and his friend and fellow poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge had visited the Scottish Highlands in 1803. According to Dorothy's diary, solitary reapers were not an uncommon sight. And in a note to the 1807 edition, Wordsworth acknowledged his indebtedness to his friend Thomas Wilkinson's manuscript from a tour of Scotland.