The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Michael is a long poem in blank verse, its 490 lines divided into sixteen stanzas. The Michael of the title is the poem’s protagonist. The subtitle, “A Pastoral Poem,” seems to challenge the traditional conception of pastoral poetry as a form for the idyllic and the bucolic, and to prepare the reader to accept the “low and rustic life” as the ideal pastoral.

The poem is written in the third person. The poet himself assumes the role of narrator, guiding the reader to a tragic scene. There, he relates the tale of Michael with intense love and pure passions. In spite of some homely conversations, the poet speaks in his own character. From the viewer of a tragic scene to the listener of a tragic tale, the narrator emerges as the creator of a tragic poem in new style and new spirit.

The poem begins with a two-stanza prelude. The poet, almost like a tour guide, introduces to the reader a hidden valley in pastoral mountains and advises the reader to struggle courageously in order to reach it. There, through “a straggling heap of unhewn stones,” the poet thinks “On man, the heart of man, and human life.” He decides to dignify the aged Michael for the delight of men with natural hearts and for the sake of youthful poets.

The main body of the poem can be divided into three parts. Part one (stanzas 3 to 5) extolls the unusual qualities of Michael, an eighty-year-old shepherd—his gains from nature and his love for...

(The entire section is 532 words.)