Michael (poem)

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"Michael" is a pastoral poem, written by William Wordsworth in 1800 and first published in the 1800 edition of Lyrical Ballads. The poem is one of Wordsworth's best known poems and the subject of much critical literature. It tells the story of an aging shepherd, Michael, his wife, and his only child Luke.

Michael lost half his land when he used it as a surety for a nephew who had met with financial misfortune. When Luke reaches the age of 18, Michael sends Luke to stay in London with a merchant that he might learn a trade and acquire sufficient wealth to regain the land that Michael has lost. It breaks Michael's heart to send Luke away and he makes Luke lay the first stone of a sheepfold as a covenant between them that Luke will return. However, Luke is corrupted in the city and is forced to flee the country and Michael must live out his life without his son. He returns sometimes to the sheepfold but no longer has the heart to complete it.

The epigraph of George Eliot's Silas Marner is taken from the poem.

The story of "Michael" may derive in part from the famous Parable of the Prodigal Son in the Bible.


  • Gifford, Terry (1999). Pastoral. Routledge. pp. 5–9.

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