Following poetic convention, Blake sets the scene for his collection in this first poem. He envisions himself as a shepherd “Piping down the valleys wild,” who encounters a child “On a cloud” (line 3) who encourages him to play a song “about a Lamb.” After hearing the music, the child asks the shepherd to drop his pipe and sing the words to the song. After enjoying the lyrics, the child tells the shepherd to “write/In a book that all may read” the songs he has created. So he sits down, makes a pen from the materials at hand, and begins to write “my happy songs,/Every child may joy to hear.”
This poem consists of five quatrains, some of which follow the heroic stanza form. The rhyme scheme of the “Introduction” varies depending upon the stanza. Stanzas 1 and 4 follow the traditional ABAB pattern, while stanzas 2, 3, and 5 use an ABCB pattern. The first and fourth stanzas begin with “Piping” and the noun form “Piper,” juxtaposing the musical nature of the speaker with the most musical rhymes of the poem.
The poet sees a child in the sky, upon a cloud. This child is both an embodiment of innocence, as he is young, and the inspiration behind poetry, as he charges the shepherd to play, sing, and write. That the child charges the shepherd to play the song specifically about “a Lamb” indicates one of the major foci of Blake’s work, the portrayal of Jesus as the innocent, spotless Lamb of Christianity. Ostensibly, the intended audience for this collection is also innocent, as the poet writes, “Every child may joy to hear.” It is not only children, however, but also the childlike at heart who will appreciate his works.
Using the reed for a pen and stained water for the ink connects even the act of creation to nature. The easily acceptable tools provided by the natural world serve to emphasize both the spontaneity of the works that follow and their place as responses to the bounty and beauty of nature. His subject matter will (allegedly) be “happy cheer” throughout, although several poems of the Songs of Innocence belie this suggestion.
The shepherd's progression from piping, to singing, and finally to writing parallels the poet's own progression from inspiration, the music, to the initial composition of the poem, the lyrics, and finally the creative act of putting the words on paper. The poem wishes “that all may read,” a phrasing which suggests the superiority of the written word over the recited word in the former's ability to reach a wider audience and to exist apart from the author. Blake's own vocations as printer and engraver are therefore vindicated over that of the performer.