The speaker asks himself whether he can see the sorrows of another and not be moved in his own heart. The answer, as with most rhetorical questions, is “no.” From the general suffering of another, the speaker moves to the grief of a father over his children’s sorrows and a mother’s tears over her children’s pain. From this understanding of his own capacity for compassion, the speaker derives his view that God, “he who smiles on all,” cannot see the suffering of others, whether man or beast, without also being moved to pity.
This nine-stanza poem consists of quatrains following the AABB rhyme scheme of two rhyming couplets. Blake structures this poem differently from any others in Songs of Innocence, placing the first four stanzas in a column parallel to the next four stanzas, with the ninth stanza centered below the rest of the poem. The content of each stanza is similarly structured, with the first four stanzas all asking the rhetorical question "Can I" (or "Can He," referring to God); the fifth through eighth stanzas answer the question with God's response to misery, both human and animal. Finally, the night stanza forms a coda to the poem, declaring the compassion of God in giving us joy to eliminate our sorrows.
As the poem draws near its end, the speaker states specifically the form God’s mercy will take: he gives his joy to all when he “becomes an infant child,” in the incarnation of Jesus Christ and “becomes a man of woe,” as Christ did in the time leading up to and including his crucifixion. The poem ends with comfort to the reader that his creator will not desert him, and will in fact “sit by us and moan” when we suffer.