A little boy freely sings.  He spends his days running and playing, until his mother calls him back.  He sits at her feet as she tells him of his calling, responsibility and obligation.  Each day he returns to her for these lessons, listening more but thinking less.  As he grows older it becomes harder to remain imaginative.  He begins working as a shepherd, falling into the pattern of monotony of spending each day with the sheep.  One day he seems to hear a voice calling, “Shepherd, Piper, play for me.”  He glances around and sees no one.  After hearing the voice again, he looks up to see the figure of a child beckoning him, calling him to perform.  It’s been too many years, he thinks.  I have nothing to sing, he reasons.  But still the voice continues and finally he begins.  As he sings the child dances above him, spurring him on in mutual enjoyment.  Soon the child fades away, but the piper and shepherd’s song continues.  If only for his sheep, he will carry on playing.

In the opening image of the woman and child beneath the tree, Blake visualizes education as the children listen to their mother.  However, the dark tree branches appear to choke out the celestial Songs of Innocence, gradually building a barrier between the children and this imaginative space.  In this way indoctrination and education choke out imagination, transforming each child from an individual to one of a number thinking and acting the same way.  As the child begins to work, he falls into a slow monotony that again dulls his freethinking.  The return of the child is the return of innocence and imagination.  Despite the physical monotony of his work as a shepherd, his mind can still think and create.  In this way Blake communicates that innocence can be reclaimed; the creative genius is not dead but merely dormant.