Lyrical Ballads, with other poems, by William Wordsworth

Michael

A Pastoral Poem.

If from the public way you turn your steps

Up the tumultuous brook of Green-head Gill,

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 beside that boisterous Brook

The mountains have all open’d out themselves,

And made a hidden valley of their own.

No habitation there is seen; but such

As journey thither find themselves alone

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

There is a straggling heap of unhewn stones!

And to that place a story appertains,

Which, though it be ungarnish’d with events,

Is not unfit, I deem, for the fire-side,

Or for the summer shade. It was the first,

The earliest of those tales that spake to me

Of Shepherds, dwellers in the vallies, men

Whom I already lov’d, 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

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

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 he had learn’d the meaning of all winds,

Of blasts of every tone, and often-times

When others heeded not, He heard the South

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, summon’d 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.

So liv’d he till his eightieth year was pass’d.

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 chearful spirits he had breath’d

The common air; the hills, which he so oft

Had climb’d with vigorous steps; which had impress’d

So many incidents upon his mind

Of hardship, skill or courage, joy or fear;

Which like a book preserv’d the memory

Of the dumb animals, whom he had sav’d,

Had fed or shelter’d, linking to such acts,

So grateful in themselves, the certainty

Of honorable gains; these fields, these hills

Which were his living Being, even more

Than his own Blood — 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.

He had not passed his days in singleness.

He had a Wife, a comely Matron, old

Though younger than himself full twenty years.

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,

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

Turn’d to their cleanly supper-board, and there

Each with a mess of pottage and skimm’d milk,

Sate round their basket pil’d with oaten cakes,

And their plain home-made cheese. Yet when their meal

Was ended, LUKE (for so the Son was nam’d)

And his old Father, both betook themselves

To such convenient work, as might employ

Their hands by the fire-side; perhaps to card

Wool for the House-wife’s spindle, or repair

Some injury done to sickle, flail, or scythe,

Or other implement of house or field.

Down from the cicling by the chimney’s edge,

Which in our ancient uncouth country style

Did with a huge projection overbrow

Large space beneath, as duly as the light

Of day grew dim, the House-wife hung a lamp;

An aged utensil, which had perform’d

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

Nor chearful, yet with objects and with hopes

Living a life of eager industry.

And now, when LUKE was in his eighteenth year,

There by the light of this old lamp they sate,

Father and Son, while late into the night

The House-wife plied her own peculiar work,

Making the cottage thro’ the silent hours

Murmur as with the sound of summer flies.

Not with a waste of words, but for the sake

Of pleasure, which I know that I shall give

To many living now, I of this Lamp

Speak thus minutely: for there are no few

Whose memories will bear witness to my tale,

The Light was famous in its neighbourhood,

And was a public Symbol of the life,

The thrifty Pair had liv’d. For, as it chanc’d,

Their Cottage on a plot of rising ground

Stood single, with large prospect North and South,

High into Easedale, up to Dunmal–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 nam’d The Evening Star.

Thus living on through such a length of years,

The Shepherd, if he lov’d himself, must needs

Have lov’d his Help-mate; but to Michael’s heart

This Son of his old age was yet more dear —

Effect which might perhaps have been produc’d

By that instinctive tenderness, the same

Blind Spirit, which is in the blood of all,

Or that a child, more than all other gifts,

Brings hope with it, and forward-looking thoughts,

And stirrings of inquietude, when they

By tendency of nature needs must fail.

From such, and other causes, to the thoughts

Of the old Man his only Son was now

The dearest object that he knew on earth.

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 dalliance and delight, as is the use

Of Fathers, but with patient mind enforc’d

To acts of tenderness; and he had rock’d

His cradle with a woman’s gentle hand.

And in a later time, ere yet the Boy

Had put on Boy’s attire, did Michael love,

Albeit of a stern unbending mind,

To have the young one in his sight, when he

Had work by his own door, or when he sate

With sheep before him on his Shepherd’s stool,

Beneath that large old Oak, which near their door

Stood, and from it’s enormous breadth of shade

Chosen for the Shearer’s covert from the sun,

Thence in our rustic dialect was call’d

The CLIPPING TREE, 18 a name which yet it bears.

18 Clipping is the word used in the North of England for shearing.

There, while they two were sitting in the shade,

With others round them, earnest all and blithe,

Would Michael exercise his heart with looks

Of fond correction and reproof bestow’d

Upon the child, if he dislurb’d the sheep

By catching at their legs, or with his shouts

Scar’d 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

With his own hand a sapling, which he hoop’d

With iron, making it throughout in all

Due requisites a perfect Shepherd’s Staff,

And gave it to the Boy; wherewith equipp’d

He as a Watchman oftentimes was plac’d

At gate or gap, to stem or turn the flock,

And to his office prematurely call’d

There stood the urchin, as you will divine,

Something between a hindrance and a help,

And for this cause not always, I believe,

Receiving from his Father hire of praise.

While this good household thus were living on

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

In surety for his Brother’s Son, a man

Of an industrious life, and ample means,

But unforeseen misfortunes suddenly

Had press’d upon him, and old Michael now

Was summon’d to discharge the forfeiture,

A grievous penalty, but little less

Than half his substance. This unlook’d-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.

As soon as he had gather’d so much strength

That he could look his trouble in the face,

It seem’d that his sole refuge was to sell

A portion of his patrimonial fields.

Such was his first resolve; he thought again,

And his heart fail’d him. “Isabel,” said he,

Two evenings after he had heard the news,

“I have been toiling more than seventy years,

And in the open sun-shine of God’s love

Have we all liv’d, yet if these fields of ours

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 itself

Has scarcely been more diligent than I,

And I have liv’d 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

’Twere better to be dumb than to talk thus.

When I began, my purpose was to speak

Of remedies and of a chearful 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 knowest,

Another Kinsman, he will be our friend

In this distress. He is a prosperous man,

Thriving in trade, and Luke to him shall go,

And with his Kinsman’s help and his own thrift,

He quickly will repair this loss, and then

May come again to us. If here he stay,

What can be done? Where every one is poor

What can be gain’d?” At this, the old man paus’d,

And Isabel sate 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,

And halfpennies, wherewith the Neighbours bought

A Basket, which they fill’d 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 wond’rous rich,

And left estates and monies to the poor,

And at his birth-place built a Chapel, floor’d

With Marble, which he sent from foreign lands.

These thoughts, and many others of like sort,

Pass’d quickly thro’ the mind of Isabel,

And her face brighten’d. The Old Man was glad.

And thus resum’d. “Well I 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

To-morrow, or the next day, or to-night:

— If he could go, the Boy should go to-night.”

Here Michael ceas’d, and to the fields went forth

With a light heart. The House-wife 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 for the two last nights

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 Lad made answer with a jocund voice,

And Isabel, when she had told her fears,

Recover’d heart. That evening her best fare

Did she bring forth, and all together sate

Like happy people round a Christmas fire.

Next morning Isabel resum’d her work,

And all the ensuing week the house appear’d

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

He might be sent to him. Ten times or more

The letter was read over; Isabel

Went forth to shew 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 return’d, the Old Man said,

“He shall depart tomorrow.” To this word

The House — wife answered, talking much of things

Which, if at such, short notice he should go,

Would surely be forgotten. But at length

She gave consent, and Michael was at ease.

Near the tumultuous brook of Green-head Gill,

In that deep Valley, Michael had design’d

To build a Sheep-fold, and, before he heard

The tidings of his melancholy loss,

For this same purpose he had gathered up

A heap of stones, which close to the brook side

Lay thrown together, ready for the work.

With Luke that evening thitherward he walk’d;

And soon as they had reach’d the place he stopp’d,

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 speak

Of things thou caust not know of. — After thou

First cam’st into the world, as it befalls

To new-born infants, thou didst sleep away

Two days, and blessings from thy Father’s tongue

Then fell upon thee. Day by day pass’d on,

And still I lov’d thee with encreasing love.”

Never to living ear came sweeter sounds

Than when I heard thee by our own fire-side

First uttering without words a natural tune,

When thou, a feeding babe, didst in thy joy

Sing at thy Mother’s breast. Month follow’d month,

And in the open fields my life was pass’d

And in 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 know’st, in us the old and young

Have play’d together, nor with me didst thou

Lack any pleasure which a boy can know.

Luke had a manly heart; but at these words

He sobb’d aloud; the Old Man grasp’d his hand,

And said, “Nay do not take it so — I see

That these are things of which I need not speak.

— 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

Receiv’d at others’ hands, for, though now old

Beyond the common life of man, I still

Remember them who lov’d me in my youth.”

Both of them sleep together: here they liv’d

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 mold.

I wish’d that thou should’st live the life they liv’d.

But ’tis a long time to look back, my Son,

And see so little gain from sixty years.

These fields were burthen’d when they came to me;

‘Till I was forty years of age, not more

Than half of my inheritance was mine.

“I toil’d and toil’d; God bless’d 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,

If I judge ill for thee, but it seems good

That thou should’st go.” At this the Old Man paus’d,

Then, pointing to the Stones near which they stood,

Thus, after a short silence, he resum’d:

“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.

I for the purpose brought thee to this place.”

Nay, Boy, be of good hope:— we both may live

To see a better day. At eighty-four

I still am strong and stout; — do thou thy part,

I will do mine. — I will begin again

With many tasks that were resign’d 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

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, let this Sheep-fold be

Thy anchor and thy shield; amid all fear

And all temptation, let it be to thee

An emblem of the life thy Fathers liv’d,

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 stoop’d down,

And as his Father had requested, laid

The first stone of the Sheep-fold; at the sight

The Old Man’s grief broke from him, to his heart

He press’d his Son, he kissed him and wept;

And to the House together they return’d.

Next morning, as had been resolv’d, the Boy

Began his journey, and when he had reach’d

The public Way, he put on a bold face;

And all the Neighbours as he pass’d their doors

Came forth, with wishes and with farewell pray’rs,

That follow’d him ‘till he was out of sight.

A good report did from their Kinsman come,

Of Luke and his well-doing; and the Boy

Wrote loving letters, full of wond’rous news,

Which, as the House-wife phrased it, were throughout

The prettiest letters that were ever seen.

Both parents read them with rejoicing hearts.

So, many months pass’d 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

He to that valley took his way, and there

Wrought at the Sheep-fold. 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 break the heart:— Old Michael found it so.

I have convers’d 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 look’d up upon the sun.

And listen’d to the wind; and as before

Perform’d all kinds of labour for his Sheep,

And for the land his small inheritance.

And to that hollow Dell from time to time

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 — ands ’tis believ’d by all

That many and many a day he thither went,

And never lifted up a single stone.

There, by the Sheep-fold, sometimes was he seen

Sitting alone, with that his faithful Dog,

Then old, beside him, lying at his feet.

The length of full seven years from time to time

He at the building of this Sheep-fold 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 nam’d 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

Of the unfinished Sheep-fold may be seen

Beside the boisterous brook of Green-head Gill.

NOTE I.

Page 213 — line 14 “There’s Richard Bateman,” &c. This story alluded to here is well known in the country. The chapel is called Ings Chapel; and is on the right hand side of the road leading from Kendal to Ambleside.

NOTE II.

Page 217 — line 4 “— had design’d to build a sheep-fold.” etc. It may be proper to inform some readers, that a sheep-fold in these mountains is an unroofed building of stone walls, with different divisions. It is generally placed by the side of a brook, for the convenience of washing the sheep; but it is also useful as a shelter for them, and as a place to drive them into, to enable the shepherds conveniently to single out one or more for any particular purpose.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30