Verse > William Wordsworth > Complete Poetical Works
  PREVIOUS NEXT  
CONTENTS      BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD


MICHAEL

A PASTORAL POEM

      IF from the public way you turn your steps
      Up the tumultuous brook of Greenhead Ghyll,
      You will suppose that with an upright path
      Your feet must struggle; in such bold ascent
      The pastoral mountains front you, face to face.
      But, courage! for around that boisterous brook
      The mountains have all opened out themselves,
      And made a hidden valley of their own.
      No habitation can be seen; but they
      Who journey thither find themselves alone                       10
      With a few sheep, with rocks and stones, and kites
      That overhead are sailing in the sky.
      It is in truth an utter solitude;
      Nor should I have made mention of this Dell
      But for one object which you might pass by,
      Might see and notice not. Beside the brook
      Appears a straggling heap of unhewn stones!
      And to that simple object appertains
      A story--unenriched with strange events,
      Yet not unfit, I deem, for the fireside,                        20
      Or for the summer shade. It was the first
      Of those domestic tales that spake to me
      Of shepherds, dwellers in the valleys, men
      Whom I already loved; not verily
      For their own sakes, but for the fields and hills
      Where was their occupation and abode.
      And hence this Tale, while I was yet a Boy
      Careless of books, yet having felt the power
      Of Nature, by the gentle agency
      Of natural objects, led me on to feel                           30
      For passions that were not my own, and think
      (At random and imperfectly indeed)
      On man, the heart of man, and human life.
      Therefore, although it be a history
      Homely and rude, I will relate the same
      For the delight of a few natural hearts;
      And, with yet fonder feeling, for the sake
      Of youthful Poets, who among these hills
      Will be my second self when I am gone.
        UPON the forest-side in Grasmere Vale                         40
      There dwelt a Shepherd, Michael was his name;
      An old man, stout of heart, and strong of limb.
      His bodily frame had been from youth to age
      Of an unusual strength: his mind was keen,
      Intense, and frugal, apt for all affairs,
      And in his shepherd's calling he was prompt
      And watchful more than ordinary men.
      Hence had he learned the meaning of all winds,
      Of blasts of every tone; and, oftentimes,
      When others heeded not, He heard the South                      50
      Make subterraneous music, like the noise
      Of bagpipers on distant Highland hills.
      The Shepherd, at such warning, of his flock
      Bethought him, and he to himself would say,
      "The winds are now devising work for me!"
      And, truly, at all times, the storm, that drives
      The traveller to a shelter, summoned him
      Up to the mountains: he had been alone
      Amid the heart of many thousand mists,
      That came to him, and left him, on the heights.                 60
      So lived he till his eightieth year was past.
      And grossly that man errs, who should suppose
      That the green valleys, and the streams and rocks,
      Were things indifferent to the Shepherd's thoughts.
      Fields, where with cheerful spirits he had breathed
      The common air; hills, which with vigorous step
      He had so often climbed; which had impressed
      So many incidents upon his mind
      Of hardship, skill or courage, joy or fear;
      Which, like a book, preserved the memory                        70
      Of the dumb animals, whom he had saved,
      Had fed or sheltered, linking to such acts
      The certainty of honourable gain;
      Those fields, those hills--what could they less? had laid
      Strong hold on his affections, were to him
      A pleasurable feeling of blind love,
      The pleasure which there is in life itself.
        His days had not been passed in singleness.
      His Helpmate was a comely matron, old--
      Though younger than himself full twenty years.                  80
      She was a woman of a stirring life,
      Whose heart was in her house: 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 Pair had but one inmate in their house,
      An only Child, who had been born to them
      When Michael, telling o'er his years, began
      To deem that he was old,--in shepherd's phrase,
      With one foot in the grave. This only Son,                      90
      With two brave sheep-dogs tried in many a storm,
      The one of an inestimable worth,
      Made all their household. I may truly say,
      That they were as a proverb in the vale
      For endless industry. When day was gone
      And from their occupations out of doors
      The Son and Father were come home, even then,
      Their labour did not cease; unless when all
      Turned to the cleanly supper-board, and there,
      Each with a mess of pottage and skimmed milk,                  100
      Sat round the basket piled with oaten cakes,
      And their plain home-made cheese. Yet when the meal
      Was ended, Luke (for so the Son was named)
      And his old Father both betook themselves
      To such convenient work as might employ
      Their hands by the fireside; perhaps to card
      Wool for the Housewife's spindle, or repair
      Some injury done to sickle, flail, or scythe,
      Or other implement of house or field.
        Down from the ceiling, by the chimney's edge,                110
      That in our ancient uncouth country style
      With huge and black projection overbrowed
      Large space beneath, as duly as the light
      Of day grew dim the Housewife hung a lamp;
      An aged utensil, which had performed
      Service beyond all others of its kind.
      Early at evening did it burn--and late,
      Surviving comrade of uncounted hours,
      Which, going by from year to year, had found,
      And left, the couple neither gay perhaps                       120
      Nor cheerful, yet with objects and with hopes,
      Living a life of eager industry.
      And now, when Luke had reached his eighteenth year,
      There by the light of this old lamp they sate,
      Father and Son, while far into the night
      The Housewife plied her own peculiar work,
      Making the cottage through the silent hours
      Murmur as with the sound of summer flies.
      This light was famous in its neighbourhood,
      And was a public symbol of the life                            130
      That thrifty Pair had lived. For, as it chanced,
      Their cottage on a plot of rising ground
      Stood single, with large prospect, north and south,
      High into Easedale, up to Dunmail-Raise,
      And westward to the village near the lake;
      And from this constant light, so regular
      And so far seen, the House itself, by all
      Who dwelt within the limits of the vale,
      Both old and young, was named THE EVENING STAR.
        Thus living on through such a length of years,               140
      The Shepherd, if he loved himself, must needs
      Have loved his Helpmate; but to Michael's heart
      This son of his old age was yet more dear--
      Less from instinctive tenderness, the same
      Fond spirit that blindly works in the blood of all--
      Than that a child, more than all other gifts
      That earth can offer to declining man,
      Brings hope with it, and forward-looking thoughts,
      And stirrings of inquietude, when they
      By tendency of nature needs must fail.                         150
      Exceeding was the love he bare to him,
      His heart and his heart's joy! For oftentimes
      Old Michael, while he was a babe in arms,
      Had done him female service, not alone
      For pastime and delight, as is the use
      Of fathers, but with patient mind enforced
      To acts of tenderness; and he had rocked
      His cradle, as with a woman's gentle hand.
        And, in a later time, ere yet the Boy
      Had put on boy's attire, did Michael love,                     160
      Albeit of a stern unbending mind,
      To have the Young-one in his sight, when he
      Wrought in the field, or on his shepherd's stool
      Sate with a fettered sheep before him stretched
      Under the large old oak, that near his door
      Stood single, and, from matchless depth of shade,
      Chosen for the Shearer's covert from the sun,
      Thence in our rustic dialect was called
      The CLIPPING TREE, a name which yet it bears.
      There, while they two were sitting in the shade,               170
      With others round them, earnest all and blithe,
      Would Michael exercise his heart with looks
      Of fond correction and reproof bestowed
      Upon the Child, if he disturbed the sheep
      By catching at their legs, or with his shouts
      Scared them, while they lay still beneath the shears.
        And when by Heaven's good grace the boy grew up
      A healthy Lad, and carried in his cheek
      Two steady roses that were five years old;
      Then Michael from a winter coppice cut                         180
      With his own hand a sapling, which he hooped
      With iron, making it throughout in all
      Due requisites a perfect shepherd's staff,
      And gave it to the Boy; wherewith equipt
      He as a watchman oftentimes was placed
      At gate or gap, to stem or turn the flock;
      And, to his office prematurely called,
      There stood the urchin, as you will divine,
      Something between a hindrance and a help;
      And for this cause not always, I believe,                      190
      Receiving from his Father hire of praise;
      Though nought was left undone which staff, or voice,
      Or looks, or threatening gestures, could perform.
        But soon as Luke, full ten years old, could stand
      Against the mountain blasts; and to the heights,
      Not fearing toil, nor length of weary ways,
      He with his Father daily went, and they
      Were as companions, why should I relate
      That objects which the Shepherd loved before
      Were dearer now? that from the Boy there came                  200
      Feelings and emanations--things which were
      Light to the sun and music to the wind;
      And that the old Man's heart seemed born again?
        Thus in his Father's sight the Boy grew up:
      And now, when he had reached his eighteenth year,
      He was his comfort and his daily hope.
        While in this sort the simple household lived
      From day to day, to Michael's ear there came
      Distressful tidings. Long before the time
      Of which I speak, the Shepherd had been bound                  210
      In surety for his brother's son, a man
      Of an industrious life, and ample means;
      But unforeseen misfortunes suddenly
      Had prest upon him; and old Michael now
      Was summoned to discharge the forfeiture,
      A grievous penalty, but little less
      Than half his substance. This unlooked-for claim,
      At the first hearing, for a moment took
      More hope out of his life than he supposed
      That any old man ever could have lost.                         220
      As soon as he had armed himself with strength
      To look his trouble in the face, it seemed
      The Shepherd's sole resource to sell at once
      A portion of his patrimonial fields.
      Such was his first resolve; he thought again,
      And his heart failed him. "Isabel," said he,
      Two evenings after he had heard the news,
      "I have been toiling more than seventy years,
      And in the open sunshine of God's love
      Have we all lived; yet if these fields of ours                 230
      Should pass into a stranger's hand, I think
      That I could not lie quiet in my grave.
      Our lot is a hard lot; the sun himself
      Has scarcely been more diligent than I;
      And I have lived to be a fool at last
      To my own family. An evil man
      That was, and made an evil choice, if he
      Were false to us; and if he were not false,
      There are ten thousand to whom loss like this
      Had been no sorrow. I forgive him;--but                        240
      'Twere better to be dumb than to talk thus.
        When I began, my purpose was to speak
      Of remedies and of a cheerful hope.
      Our Luke shall leave us, Isabel; the land
      Shall not go from us, and it shall be free;
      He shall possess it, free as is the wind
      That passes over it. We have, thou know'st,
      Another kinsman--he will be our friend
      In this distress. He is a prosperous man,
      Thriving in trade--and Luke to him shall go,                   250
      And with his kinsman's help and his own thrift
      He quickly will repair this loss, and then
      He may return to us. If here he stay,
      What can be done? Where every one is poor,
      What can be gained?"
                            At this the old Man paused,
      And Isabel sat silent, for her mind
      Was busy, looking back into past times.
      There's Richard Bateman, thought she to herself,
      He was a parish-boy--at the church-door
      They made a gathering for him, shillings, pence                260
      And halfpennies, wherewith the neighbours bought
      A basket, which they filled with pedlar's wares;
      And, with this basket on his arm, the lad
      Went up to London, found a master there,
      Who, out of many, chose the trusty boy
      To go and overlook his merchandise
      Beyond the seas; where he grew wondrous rich,
      And left estates and monies to the poor,
      And, at his birth-place, built a chapel, floored
      With marble which he sent from foreign lands.                  270
      These thoughts, and many others of like sort,
      Passed quickly through the mind of Isabel,
      And her face brightened. The old Man was glad,
      And thus resumed:--"Well, Isabel! this scheme
      These two days, has been meat and drink to me.
      Far more than we have lost is left us yet.
      --We have enough--I wish indeed that I
      Were younger;--but this hope is a good hope.
      --Make ready Luke's best garments, of the best
      Buy for him more, and let us send him forth                    280
      To-morrow, or the next day, or to-night:
      --If he 'could' go, the Boy should go tonight."
        Here Michael ceased, and to the fields went forth
      With a light heart. The Housewife for five days
      Was restless morn and night, and all day long
      Wrought on with her best fingers to prepare
      Things needful for the journey of her son.
      But Isabel was glad when Sunday came
      To stop her in her work: for, when she lay
      By Michael's side, she through the last two nights             290
      Heard him, how he was troubled in his sleep:
      And when they rose at morning she could see
      That all his hopes were gone. That day at noon
      She said to Luke, while they two by themselves
      Were sitting at the door, "Thou must not go:
      We have no other Child but thee to lose
      None to remember--do not go away,
      For if thou leave thy Father he will die."
      The Youth made answer with a jocund voice;
      And Isabel, when she had told her fears,                       300
      Recovered heart. That evening her best fare
      Did she bring forth, and all together sat
      Like happy people round a Christmas fire.
        With daylight Isabel resumed her work;
      And all the ensuing week the house appeared
      As cheerful as a grove in Spring: at length
      The expected letter from their kinsman came,
      With kind assurances that he would do
      His utmost for the welfare of the Boy;
      To which, requests were added, that forthwith                  310
      He might be sent to him. Ten times or more
      The letter was read over; Isabel
      Went forth to show it to the neighbours round;
      Nor was there at that time on English land
      A prouder heart than Luke's. When Isabel
      Had to her house returned, the old Man said,
      "He shall depart to-morrow." To this word
      The Housewife answered, talking much of things
      Which, if at such short notice he should go,
      Would surely be forgotten. But at length                       320
      She gave consent, and Michael was at ease.
        Near the tumultuous brook of Greenhead Ghyll,
      In that deep valley, Michael had designed
      To build a Sheepfold; and, before he heard
      The tidings of his melancholy loss,
      For this same purpose he had gathered up
      A heap of stones, which by the streamlet's edge
      Lay thrown together, ready for the work.
      With Luke that evening thitherward he walked:
      And soon as they had reached the place he stopped,             330
      And thus the old Man spake to him:--"My Son,
      To-morrow thou wilt leave me: with full heart
      I look upon thee, for thou art the same
      That wert a promise to me ere thy birth,
      And all thy life hast been my daily joy.
      I will relate to thee some little part
      Of our two histories; 'twill do thee good
      When thou art from me, even if I should touch
      On things thou canst not know of.----After thou
      First cam'st into the world--as oft befalls                    340
      To new-born infants--thou didst sleep away
      Two days, and blessings from thy Father's tongue
      Then fell upon thee. Day by day passed on,
      And still I loved thee with increasing love.
      Never to living ear came sweeter sounds
      Than when I heard thee by our own fireside
      First uttering, without words, a natural tune;
      While thou, a feeding babe, didst in thy joy
      Sing at thy Mother's breast. Month followed month,
      And in the open fields my life was passed                      350
      And on the mountains; else I think that thou
      Hadst been brought up upon thy Father's knees.
      But we were playmates, Luke: among these hills,
      As well thou knowest, in us the old and young
      Have played together, nor with me didst thou
      Lack any pleasure which a boy can know."
      Luke had a manly heart; but at these words
      He sobbed aloud. The old Man grasped his hand,
      And said, "Nay, do not take it so--I see
      That these are things of which I need not speak.               360
      --Even to the utmost I have been to thee
      A kind and a good Father: and herein
      I but repay a gift which I myself
      Received at others' hands; for, though now old
      Beyond the common life of man, I still
      Remember them who loved me in my youth.
      Both of them sleep together: here they lived,
      As all their Forefathers had done; and when
      At length their time was come, they were not loth
      To give their bodies to the family mould.                      370
      I wished that thou should'st live the life they lived:
      But, 'tis a long time to look back, my Son,
      And see so little gain from threescore years.
      These fields were burthened when they came to me;
      Till I was forty years of age, not more
      Than half of my inheritance was mine.
      I toiled and toiled; God blessed me in my work,
      And till these three weeks past the land was free.
      --It looks as if it never could endure
      Another Master. Heaven forgive me, Luke,                       380
      If I judge ill for thee, but it seems good
      That thou should'st go."
                                At this the old Man paused;
      Then, pointing to the stones near which they stood,
      Thus, after a short silence, he resumed:
      "This was a work for us; and now, my Son,
      It is a work for me. But, lay one stone--
      Here, lay it for me, Luke, with thine own hands.
      Nay, Boy, be of good hope;--we both may live
      To see a better day. At eighty-four
      I still am strong and hale;--do thou thy part;                 390
      I will do mine.--I will begin again
      With many tasks that were resigned to thee:
      Up to the heights, and in among the storms,
      Will I without thee go again, and do
      All works which I was wont to do alone,
      Before I knew thy face.--Heaven bless thee, Boy!
      Thy heart these two weeks has been beating fast
      With many hopes; it should be so--yes--yes--
      I knew that thou could'st never have a wish
      To leave me, Luke: thou hast been bound to me                  400
      Only by links of love: when thou art gone,
      What will be left to us!--But, I forget
      My purposes. Lay now the corner-stone,
      As I requested; and hereafter, Luke,
      When thou art gone away, should evil men
      Be thy companions, think of me, my Son,
      And of this moment; hither turn thy thoughts,
      And God will strengthen thee: amid all fear
      And all temptation, Luke, I pray that thou
      May'st bear in mind the life thy Fathers lived,                410
      Who, being innocent, did for that cause
      Bestir them in good deeds. Now, fare thee well--
      When thou return'st, thou in this place wilt see
      A work which is not here: a covenant
      'Twill be between us; but, whatever fate
      Befall thee, I shall love thee to the last,
      And bear thy memory with me to the grave."
        The Shepherd ended here; and Luke stooped down,
      And, as his Father had requested, laid
      The first stone of the Sheepfold. At the sight                 420
      The old Man's grief broke from him; to his heart
      He pressed his Son, he kissed him and wept;
      And to the house together they returned.
      --Hushed was that House in peace, or seeming peace,
      Ere the night fell:--with morrow's dawn the Boy
      Began his journey, and when he had reached
      The public way, he put on a bold face;
      And all the neighbours, as he passed their doors,
      Came forth with wishes and with farewell prayers,
      That followed him till he was out of sight.                    430
        A good report did from their Kinsman come,
      Of Luke and his well-doing: and the Boy
      Wrote loving letters, full of wondrous news,
      Which, as the Housewife phrased it, were throughout
      "The prettiest letters that were ever seen."
      Both parents read them with rejoicing hearts.
      So, many months passed on: and once again
      The Shepherd went about his daily work
      With confident and cheerful thoughts; and now
      Sometimes when he could find a leisure hour                    440
      He to that valley took his way, and there
      Wrought at the Sheepfold. Meantime Luke began
      To slacken in his duty; and, at length,
      He in the dissolute city gave himself
      To evil courses: ignominy and shame
      Fell on him, so that he was driven at last
      To seek a hiding-place beyond the seas.
        There is a comfort in the strength of love;
      'Twill make a thing endurable, which else
      Would overset the brain, or break the heart:                   450
      I have conversed with more than one who well
      Remember the old Man, and what he was
      Years after he had heard this heavy news.
      His bodily frame had been from youth to age
      Of an unusual strength. Among the rocks
      He went, and still looked up to sun and cloud,
      And listened to the wind; and, as before,
      Performed all kinds of labour for his sheep,
      And for the land, his small inheritance.
      And to that hollow dell from time to time                      460
      Did he repair, to build the Fold of which
      His flock had need. 'Tis not forgotten yet
      The pity which was then in every heart
      For the old Man--and 'tis believed by all
      That many and many a day he thither went,
      And never lifted up a single stone.
        There, by the Sheepfold, sometimes was he seen
      Sitting alone, or with his faithful Dog,
      Then old, beside him, lying at his feet.
      The length of full seven years, from time to time,             470
      He at the building of this Sheepfold wrought,
      And left the work unfinished when he died.
      Three years, or little more, did Isabel
      Survive her Husband: at her death the estate
      Was sold, and went into a stranger's hand.
      The Cottage which was named the EVENING STAR
      Is gone--the ploughshare has been through the ground
      On which it stood; great changes have been wrought
      In all the neighbourhood:--yet the oak is left
      That grew beside their door; and the remains                   480
      Of the unfinished Sheepfold may be seen
      Beside the boisterous brook of Greenhead Ghyll.
                                                              1800.


CONTENTS      BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD


  PREVIOUS NEXT  
 
Loading
Click here to shop the Bartleby Bookstore.

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2014 Bartleby.com · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors