The Shepherd - Language, tone and structure

Language and tone in The Shepherd

The language emphasises that everything is idyllic – ‘sweet', ‘innocent' ‘tender' ‘peace'. There is little to disturb the tone of praise and peacefulness.

As well as using biblical images, Blake often uses allusions to familiar phrases from the Bible or uses very similar language. In this way, the reader perceives Blake's words and the context of the biblical phrase:

‘his tongue shall be filled with praise'

echoes Psalms 51: 15, a song traditionally ascribed to King David, Israel's king.

Investigating language and tone

  • Try replacing some of the terms like ‘sweet' with neutral sounding words
    • What effect would that have on the tone of the poem?

Structure and versification

The poem is composed of two quatrains, rhyming ABCB DEFE. The basic metre is anapaestic except where the first line starts – and the last line of the first stanza ends - with a iamb. The latter causes the reader to linger on the idea of the overflow of praise. The start of the next stanza focuses this on the innocent and harmonious relationships between the sheep.

We then move to a new thought as we see the watchfulness of the shepherd and the peacefulness of the sheep.

Investigating structure and versification

  • Do you agree that the emphasis on the idea of praise focuses our attention on the lamb-ewe relationship?
    • If so, why do you think Blake wishes to shift our attention in this way?
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