Baa, Baa, Black Sheep

Baa, Baa, Black Sheep

by Mother Goose

Baa, baa, black sheep
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full.
One for the master,
And one for the dame,
And one for the little boy
Who lives down the lane.

Meanings of Baa Baa Black Sheep

Despite its popularity among children and parents alike, this medieval nursery rhyme presents the situation of the wool tax levied on the British public during the reign of King Edward I in the 13th century. The rule was to divide the sack of wool between the King, the Church, and the farmer. This nursery rhyme perfectly presents the same picture, but over the years, it has won another significance which is adopting the musical notes and rhyme scheme fit for the children.

Meanings of Stanza -1

Baa, baa, black sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir,
Three bags full.
One for the master,
One for the dame,
And one for the little boy
Who lives down the lane

This stanza starts with the sound of the bleating of the lamb though the actual dialog is part of the conversation ensued by the first person who asks the black sheep about the wool to which she replied that she has three bags full. As these are three bags, ultimately one would go to the master, one to the dame, and one to the little boy living on the other side of the road. The master here means the British King, but the addition of the boy shows its applicability to the children. This stanza shows the main theme which is levyng of tax on the wool.

Meanings of Stanza -2

Bah, Bah a black Sheep,
Have you any Wool?
Yes merry have I,
Three Bags full,
One for my master,
One for my Dame,
One for the little Boy
That lives down the lane.

Although the second stanza has the same verses, the spellings show the initials of some words in capitals, such as sheep, wool, bags, dame, and boy. These initial capitals show the applicability and meanings of these words in specific contexts. The context is of King Edward though its signing shows the modern context. Therefore, the stanza shows dual meanings.

Summary of Baa, Baa, Black Sheep

  • Popularity of “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep”: Mother Goose, a famous imaginary author of French fairy tales and many other nursery rhymes, wrote Baa, Baa, Black Sheep. It is one of the well-known nursery rhymes of English literature. It was first published in 1731. The poem includes a conversation of an innocent child with a sheep. Even after so many years of publication, it is still read, performed, and taught across the world.
  • “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” As a Representative of Wonder: As this poem is for children, it has been written from the perspective of a child who asks a question to a black sheep. He inquires if the sheep has some wool. The sheep replies that she has three bags. Out of those three, one will go to the master, one is for the dame, and the final bag is for the little boy who lives down the lane. The poem centers on the sheep, and it highlights the importance of sheep and the woolen clothing in the 16th century. Until the late 16th century, the wool trade was a flourished business, and there was a high demand for wool. Therefore, everyone who had land preferred to raise a flock of sheep to gain wealth. In this way, the reply of the sheep is symbolic that all her wool is already set to go.
  • Major Themes in “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep”: Surprise and business are the major themes of this poem. The child asks about the wool, but he gets to know that the wool is already pre-reserved. The three bags of wool represent the three lots of one third as it is equally going to be distributed among the three. The poem also throws light on the bitter reality that the one who looks after sheep gets doesn’t get a chance to keep a large portion of the product.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep”

literary devices are tools used by writers to convey themes, their emotions, feelings, and ideas to the readers. Mother Goose has also used some literary devices in this poem. The analysis of some of the literary devices used in this poem has been given below.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /aa/ in “Baa, baa, black sheep”.
  2. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /b/ in “Baa, baa, black sheep” and the sounds of /y/ and /s/ in “Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full”.
  3. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /n/ in “Who lives down the lane” and the sound of /r/ in “Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full”.
  4. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example, “Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full”; “And one for the little boy” and “Who lives down the lane”.
  5. Personification: Personification is to give human qualities to inanimate objects. For example, sheep is personified when it replies to the boy’s question as if the sheep is human and can speak.
  6. Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from the literal meanings. Here, “wool” is the symbol of trade.
  7. Anaphora: It refers to the repetition of a word or expression in the first part of some verses. For example, ‘And one for the’ is repeated in lines sixth and seventh to emphasize the fraction of wool being distributed.
  8. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought or clause that does not come to an end at a line break; instead, it moves over the next line. For example,

“And one for the little boy
Who lives down the lane.”

9. Onomatopoeia: It refers to the words which imitate the natural sounds of the things. The poet has used onomatopoeia ‘baa’ in the first line of the poem.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is an analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this rhyme.

  • Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There is only one stanza comprises of seven lines.
  • Septet: A septet is a stanza with seven lines or verses. The poem comprises only one septet.
  • Rhyme Scheme: The poem follows ABBCDED rhyme scheme.

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below can be used while teaching phonics to the children. The repetition of some consonant sounds in the given lines would help them improve their pronunciation.

“Baa, baa, black sheep
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full.”