"Something Between A Hindrance And A Help"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: The poem "Michael" is the narrative of a shepherd whose only child, a son, arrived late in the father's life. The poem tells of the father's patience with the tiny infant and the shepherd's continued interest and time spent with the boy. And when the boy reached five years of age, Michael made his son a shepherd's staff from a sapling so that the boy could be with him more and begin to help him. Since the boy was so young for shepherding or since "to his office prematurely called," he was "something between a hindrance and a help" to his father.

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 hooped
With iron, making it throughout in all
Due requisites a perfect shepherd's staff,
And gave it to the Boy; wherewith equipped
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,
Receiving from his Father hire of praise;
Though nought was left undone which staff, or voice,
Or looks, or threatening gestures, could perform.