‘Little Bo-Peep’ by Mother Goose was first recorded, albeit only the first stanza, in 1805. This is the period around which most popular English children’s nursery rhymes were being published for the first time. Despite this fact, there are a few historical references to what might be the song from earlier on. For example, in Shakespeare’s King Lear there is mention of a children’s game called “bo-peep”. The remaining verses that were not published in 1805 appeared five years later in Gammer Gurton’s Garland or The Nursery Parnassus.
Historically, the phrase “bo peep” has some significance. It has in the past been used to refer to being stood in the pillory. This is a punishment from the 14th century and later in which one is made to stand within a wooden framework with their head and hands locked into separate holes.
The amusing, and at times dark, song describes how one-day Bo-Peep’s sheep went missing She searched for them and found them, but they were without their tails. These too she found sometime later. Something happened to the sheep while they were missing the tails her hung up to dry. Bo-Peep grabs them and rushes off to get them reattached.
‘Little Bo-Peep’ by Mother Goose is a five stanza nursery rhyme that follows a simple rhyme scheme of ABCB, changing end sounds from stanza to stanza. The poem as it is commonly sung today appears below in this analysis, but there are variations. Sometimes, depending on the region, whether in America or England, the poem might contain different words or phrases. For example, the last line sometimes reads “to tack each again to its lambkin” and other times “That each tail be properly placed”.
There are several techniques to take note of in ‘Little Bo-Peep’. These include alliteration, epistrophe and enjambment. The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, “fell fast” in line one of the second stanza and “she,” “shepherdess,” and “should” in stanza five.
Epistrophe is the repetition of the same word, or a phrase, at the end of multiple lines or sentences. For example, “them” ends two lines in the first and third stanzas.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For instance, the transitions between lines one and two of the fourth stanza.
Analysis of Little Bo-Peep
Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep,
And can’t tell where to find them;
Leave them alone, and they’ll come home,
Bringing their tails behind them.
In the first stanza of ‘Little Bo-Peep,’ the speaker describes how the main character, a young girl named “Bo-Peep” lost her sheep. The internal rhyme in this line, and in others, is very effective. It catches a reader’s attention and helps keep a younger audience engaged with what’s happening in the story.
She thinks that if she just ignores the situation in the next two lines that maybe they’ll come home and bring with them “their tails”. Everything will be set right.
Little Bo-Peep fell fast asleep,
And dreamt she heard them bleating;
But when she awoke, she found it a joke,
For they were still all fleeting.
But, unfortunately, while waiting “Bo-peep fell fast asleep”. She thought that she heard them crying out but when she awoke they were still gone. A reader should take note, again, of the internal perfect and half-rhyme in these lines of ‘Little Bo-Peep’. The sheep were still “fleeting”.
Then up she took her little crook,
Determined for to find them;
She found them indeed, but it made her heart bleed,
For they’d left their tails behind them.
With new determination in the third stanza of ‘Little Bo-Peep’, she gets up and sets out to find the animals. It is not a happy ending for the sheep. Even though she found them, she saw something that made her “heart bleed”. Like much nonsense poetry and children’s nursery rhymes, the next lines don’t make much real sense. The sheep somehow managed to leave “their tails behind them” while adventuring.
It happened one day, as Bo-Peep did stray
Into a meadow hard by,
There she espied their tails, side by side,
All hung on a tree to dry.
Finally, some time passes in the song ‘Little Bo-Peep’, and the girl does rediscover the sheep’s tails. They were “side by side” and hanging from a tree to dry. This is a dark and strange image in the middle f this story and there is no explanation for exactly what happened here.
She heaved a sigh and wiped her eye,
And over the hillocks she raced;
And tried what she could, as a shepherdess should,
That each tail be properly placed.
In the final four lines of ‘Little Bo-Peep’, Bo-Peep gets up her courage and runs back over the hills. She does everything she can as a shepherdess to help her sheep and make sure that each got their tail reattached.