Michael William Wordsworth's pastoral, 'Michael', was a lot to take in the first time I read it. The story was clear, I understood that it is about the misfortunes of a family living in the early 1800's, and I picked up on some biblical allusions, but I read it unaware of the conditions that surrounded most people at the time, and unaware of Wordsworth's intentions. I am no expert on interpreting poetry, especially a lengthy pastoral which at times uses words and phrases that I have never even heard of before, so the need to gain an understanding of the background of this poem soon became imperative. After a bit of research into the early 1800's, and into William Wordsworth, I came to be very moved by the poem. The unconditional love that Michael has for his son, Luke, was all he had, it was all that kept him going. His whole life work was motivated by the love for his son. Even after making a more emotional connection with the poem, it was still just a touching story. I thought that a first generation Romantic poet who, like other poets of his time, confronted the violence brought on by the Reign of Terror, would surely have written such a poem with more meaning than one could gain from simply reading it, unaware of its context.
In her article 'Spiritual Economics: A reading of Wordsworth's "Michael"', Marjorie Levinson
focuses on what she thinks are three important issues: the obvious narrative themes in the poem, the allusions to Bible stories, 5and 'the editorial commentary supplied in the poem's frame' (709). She addresses Wordsworth's desire to 'delight' his readers, and suggests that by 'delight' he actually means to educate the readers of 'real things and their respective importance' (710). Levinson talks of the Biblical allusions that are seemingly present in the poem, the main and most obvious one being to the sacrificing of Abraham's son Isaac, which is the story that came to my mind when I first read the poem. She talks a lot about
a letter Wordsworth sent to statesman Charles Fox along with a copy of his Lyrical Ballads,
in which he pointed out the 'sociopolitical meanings embedded in the ballads' (707), using 'Michael' along with another poem he had included in Lyrical Ballads to prove his point. He addresses issues surrounding the lower class of the time, in particular the 'domestic affections'. Levinson emphasises the importance of this letter throughout her article. For the most part I agree with Levinson's interpretation of Michael, but in my opinion she doesn't talk enough about the emotion between the Michael and Luke. She talks about what the relationships depicted in the poem represent, what the people represent, etc., but she doesn't address the more denotative side of the poem very much. The fact that this is a heart-breaking story of a family, a story of an incredibly un-fortunate event that was likely very common among the lower class at the time. I think it's important to appreciate some of the simpler things in the poem, to consider an interpretation of the poem that focuses on the personal relationships and emotions depicted in the characters.

Greenblatt, Stephen.

The Norton Anthology of English Literature 8th ed. Vol. 2. New York: W.W. Norton,
2006. 243-44, 292-302

Levinson, Marjorie. "Spiritual Economics: A Reading of Wordsworth's 'Michael'" ELH 52 (1985): 707-31http://www.oppapers.com/essays/William/160813

William 7.4 of 10 on the basis of 4364 Review.