The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XI. The Period of the French Revolution.

V. William Wordsworth

§ 18. Michael

There may be a poetry of nature less obvious than that founded on a multitudinous notation of her detailed aspects, less subtle than the analysis of exquisite sensations, but, perhaps, of more breadth and grandeur. Hazlitt has said that one could infer that Wordsworth’s poetry “was written in a mountainous country, from its bareness, its simplicity, its loftiness and its depth.” It is not, indeed, by description that the characters of nature are most deeply caught and expressed; it is by incorporation, so to say, when the image of the outward world, instead of being directly presented, is reflected in the feelings and shines through the most indifferent words; thus deeply had the scenery among which he spent his days penetrated into Wordsworth’s mind and soul. If we had to praise him as the poet of mountains, we might, of course, choose the noble descriptive pages that abound in his volumes; but, rather than to these, rather than to the famous mountain scenes in his Excursion—which are too conscious—we should turn to a poem like Michael, where scenery, characters and style form a perfect harmony of lines and tints that could not have existed without a secret process of assimilation. Lofty and bare, indeed, is this pastoral; few flowers grow on the heights where old Michael meant to build his sheepfold. The land is unadorned. It has no other features than the sheer lineaments of its sweeps and pastures or its steep rocks, over which are spread by turns the naked sky and the winter mists. All this, together with the bracing air, you feel from the first to the last line, not less when the poet gives you the speech of his ancient “statesman” or a glimpse of his stern mind, than when he paints the landscape itself. Even as the scenery is composed of essentials, so is the old man’s character, and so his language. In such passages there is not one word of description, and yet the “pastoral mountains” are constantly conjured up with their raw atmosphere, behind the discoursing shepherd. Every syllable he utters is their emanation.