ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

William Wordsworth's "Michael"

Updated on February 1, 2020
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

Poetry became my passion, after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962.

Wordsworth's Home

Rydal Mount, circa 1897
Rydal Mount, circa 1897 | Source

Reading of Wordsworth's "Michael"

Wordsworth’s Foreword

In the foreword to the long poem, the poet informs his readers about the purpose of the poem and how it came to be. Wordsworth had been residing in a house at Town-end, Grasmere, the location of his characters in the poem. It was around 1800, around the same time he composed "The Brothers."

In this poem, the name of the home is "Evening Star," a name that in reality applied to a house located north of the property. The "sheepfold" functions as an important artifact in the poem. Wordsworth explains that the "ruins of [the sheepfold]" still exist. He wants his readers to understand how important that feature is to the story narrated in the poem.

Overview of the Story

This long, narrative poem, "Michael," features a pastoral poem that heaps praise on the rural way of living, close to nature, away from the busy clamor of the city.

The Characters

Three characters populate the narrative: eighty-year-old Michael, a shepherd, his sixty-year-old wife, and their son Luke. For many years, Michael and Isabel had resided on land that Michael had inherited. Michael is an energetic, dedicated worker, who knows the meaning of each change in the sound of the wind.

Isabel is also very industrious: she keeps their home running smoothly. She spins wool and flax. Their son Luke is an exceptional son, assisting his parents in their difficult but gratifying life. Michael, Isabel, and Luke represent the essential qualities of living the moral life, which leads to happiness.

The beginning of the poem depicts the landscape on which the family of three has lived and resisted the elements. Their rustic farm was located in a valley. The speaker has traveled on foot, and he describes the difficulty of negotiating the desolate, difficult terrain.

The Plot

The plot of the story is quite simple: the family living a rustic relatively quiet life has been happy and functioning well for many years. As their son Luke turns eighteen, the family becomes burdened with a debt that came with Michael’s signing of a paper making him responsible to the debt of his brother’s son. Michael decides that instead selling off part his land to cover the debt, he will have Luke go to work for a rich merchant to earn enough money to satisfy the debt.

As a good son, Luke easily complies with his father’s wishes and goes to work to earn the money to repay the debt. The family finds this decision difficult, but they all believe it offers the best alternative. The day before Luke leaves, his father takes him to a location on the side of a mountain, where Michael had long planned to build a sheepfold. Michael and his son experience a deeply personal talk. Michael instructs Luke to put in place the cornerstone of the sheepfold, and he says he will continue and complete the sheepfold while Luke is gone from home.

Michael also gives his son advice intended to maintain the purity of character of the lad:

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 temptations, Luke, I pray that thou
May’st bear in mind the life thy Fathers lived,
Who, being innocent, did for that cause
Bestir them in good deeds.

After Luke ventures forth, he does indeed in the beginning prosper. He sends home letters of glowing success. Then the unthinkable happens. He commits crimes and has to flee prosecution "beyond the seas." Mourning the loss of his son, Michael is never able to finish the sheepfold, and he travels there daily to mourn his loss. Michael mourns for seven years and then dies. And Isabel dies three years later.

Romantic Morality

The Romantics believed in the morality and serenity of the rustic life above all else. They encouraged the pastoral, living-close-to-nature way of existing on this earth. Wordsworth is the quintessential "Romantic." Thus, his little story makes clear the supposition that such a pastoral life would result in purity, morality, and ultimately happiness for those who truly live such.

The reader takes from the narrative the notion that if only Luke had continued to live the rustic life of his parents, he would have saved himself the ignominy of living the life of a criminal on the run, and he would have spared his parents the heartache that they experienced in their later years.

21st century world culture has now turned this notion on its head: it is now the "rubes" who are deemed the ignorant, uneducated, immoral, evil element of society, primarily for the political proclivities and their continued desire for individual liberty and personal accomplishment. It is now the collectivist, politically correct, identity-politics herd that deems itself the uplifting element of society.

William Wordsworth


© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes


Submit a Comment
  • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Sue Grimes 

    3 years ago from U.S.A.

    Laura, thank you for the comment. The Romantics did appreciate the rustic life.

  • bearnmom profile image

    Laura L Scotty 

    4 years ago from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

    This review of Wordsworth's poem is well presented and presents a good plea for following the simple ways.


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)