Songs of Innocence and of Experience

Songs of Innocence and of Experience Summary and Analysis of "The Shepherd"


The poet romanticizes the shepherd’s “sweet lot” in life. The shepherd has no fixed workplace, must only follow his sheep, and has “songs of praise” on this tongue constantly. He has nothing to listen to but the “innocent call” of the lamb and the “tender reply” of the ewe.


“The Shepherd” is a poem of two quatrains, each following the ABCB rhyme scheme. The first stanza involves the shepherd actively making noise, as his “tongue” follows the sheep to direct them throughout the day. The second stanza shifts to the peace of nighttime, when the shepherd is quiet so that he may “hear,” a word repeated twice in this stanza, and be “watching” over the sheep. The tone moves from one of energetic joy to one of somber peacefulness.

Blake shifts from the first-person shepherd of the “Introduction” to a third-person description of the idyllic shepherd’s lot in life. The image of the lamb is again used, but this time “lamb” is a common noun, and not overtly meant to be a representation of Jesus Christ, although that connection remains. Blake’s own disenchantment with the city is implied here in his paean to the shepherd’s rural life. In contrast to the busy life of the urban dweller, the shepherd needs only to follow his sheep, listening to their innocent cries and singing songs of praise. These songs of praise echo the song sung in the Introduction, leading the reader to see the following poems of Songs of Innocence as the shepherd’s pastorally-inspired, spontaneous songs.

The shepherd's blessed life is not one merely of relaxation, however. “He is watchful,” Blake writes, indicating the shepherd's role s caretaker over his flock. In response, the sheep are “in peace,/For they know when their Shepherd is nigh.” The capitalization of “Shepherd” throughout the poem suggests the Divine Shepherd, Jesus Christ, who watches over his church “from the morn to the evening” while constantly creating beauty, just as the poetic shepherd does in Blake's present work.