‘The Shepherd’

The most striking thing about William Blake’s ‘The Shepherd’ from Songs of Innocence and Experience is how strong the religious undertones are upon reflection. At first, the poem appears to simply be about the joys that a shepherd takes in his daily duties but there is a lot more going on here than just that. The capitalization of the “S” in “Shepherd” suggests that the shepherd himself is quite important, as Jesus Christ and God are frequently referred to as playing this role – except they shepherd mankind as opposed to sheep. The sheep are happy and content under their watchful gaze, feeling the sort of security that people should feel knowing that God is watching over and protecting them. It is strange that the poem seems imply that the Shepherd is following the flock as opposed to leading them (“He shall follow his sheep all the day”) as this is not traditionally the way shepherds operate, but this is another example of how the relationship here is an allegory for the one between humans and God. It is a very simple poem, both in terms of language and its overall message. Humans are presented as innocent and peaceful, but only when they know the protection of a higher power is nearby. God is seen as a paternal figure who takes great joy in his daily work. It is a symbiotic connection that benefits both parties.

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