William Wordsworth’s first attempt at a pastoral poem can be seen in “Michael,” the concluding poem of Lyrical Ballads. A pastoral poem is defined as poem set in idealized, often artificial rural surroundings. “Michael” begins with Wordsworth taking us to the mystical place near Greenhead Ghyll, where Michael and his family live.
Wordsworth vividly describes the land on which Michael lives, making it seem like paradise. Michael lives in a solitary place in the valley among the high mountains. There is a small river and by the side of that small river there lie some uncut stones.
“Upon the Forest-side in Grasmere Vale
There dwelt a Shepherd, Michael was his name.”
The story in the poem is very simple and it is connected with these pieces of stones. Michael is then described as a shepherd who has worked the land all his life. Michael faces many storms in the company of the flock of sheep. He can understand the meanings of the winds. He can easily understand when a storm is coming. Michael has a deep love for his fields, rocks, stones and nature.
Hence he had learn'd the meaning of all winds,
Of blasts of every tone, and often-times
When others heeded not
We feel that Michael is the creation of the poet’s mind. Like, Wordsworth, Michael is the great lover of nature. The character of Michael is dear to Wordsworth because such a man is very close to Wordsworth’s heart.
As the poem continues, Michael’s wife, who is twenty years his junior, and Luke their son are introduced and thoroughly described. Michael and Isabel have lived on land he inherited for many years. Isabel as the perfect cares greatly for her family and works hard to care them. She has two spinning wheels.
Michael, his wife and his son are found to be busy in domestic affairs along with the sheepdogs. They work from sunrise to till sunset. The son remains busy repairing the plough of the sickle.
two wheels she had
Of antique form; this large, for spinning wool;
That small, for flax; and if one wheel had rest
It was because the other was at work.
The poem is really a poem about humble life. We observe that Wordsworth is dealing with rural man with rural occupation.
Wordsworth describes the cottage and the household with picturesque language. The cottage is on a high ground and during the evening the housewife lights the lamp. The house is named “The Evening Star.”
Down from the cicling by the chimney's edge,
Which in our ancient uncouth country style
Of day grew dim, the House-wife hung a lamp;
An aged utensil, which had perform'd
Service beyond all others of its kind.
As the poem continues we watch Luke grow up. At the age of five he is given a shepherds staff from his father. Love or passion is the part and parcel of rural life. The poem deals with the domestic love. The deep love of Michael for Isabel is emphasized throughout the whole poem. But what is extraordinary important is the old man’s love for the son. His son is the entire of all his hopes. Michael is linked with the boy as body linked with the soul.
This son of his old age was yet more dear
Than that a child, more than all other gifts
That earth can offer to declining man,
Brings hope with it, and forward-looking thoughts,
Michael is used to have Luke by wherever he is working in the field, at home or under the shad oak tree in front of he cottages. The father keep the son safe from the burning son.
In the following lines Michael is forced to pay back a debt which he owes, and the only way he could do this is to either sell his land or have Luke work off the debt in the city. Before he goes his Father takes him to the brook with the many stones and asks him to lay the cornerstone for the Sheepfold. He wants him to come back one day and finish what he has started, and to leave a permanent mark on the land. He hopes that he will get back his property and built the sheepfold with collected stones.
The son is ruined. Soon Michael dies and his wife follows him. After some time the cottage is pulled down and the unfinished sheepfold is no longer seen. The Evening Star vanished and there emerged only the oak tree.
yet the Oak is left
That grew beside their Door; and the remains
Of the unfinished Sheep-fold may be seen
Beside the boisterous brook of Green-head Gill.
In the light of the above analysis we can say that the poem deals with the success and failure, hopes and despair of the rural people and for this he uses pastoral setting. Wordsworth is very much simple, candid and spontaneous in his creation and everywhere there is the touch of nature.