Analysis of The Sick Rose by William Blake

This article is an analysis of the poem The Sick Rose by William Blake.

William Blake was the early 19th century Romantic poet in Britain.

Before we look at the poem it's helpful to remember that William Blake believed in what he called the two contrary sides of the human soul. Sides that he termed innocence and experience he even published two of his collections of verse titled Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. Where he has several poems in Songs of Innocence like the Lamb that are associated with purity peacefulness harmony light childhood elements of the human experience that he deemed to be filled with meaning. But of a calming and more assured more confident and faithful side particularly with his view of God and of the Bible.

On the contrary, he had Songs of Experience as well filled with poems like The Tiger and The Fly. Poems that examine corruption and decay sinfulness ageing and adulthood and even civilization. That civilized man in his adulthood man in his prime may have lost something in his childhood that was quite necessary that of innocence and purity.

The Sick Rose is a poem from Songs of Experience. So in it we see Blake observing and examining that depraved or corroded or corrupted view of or side rather of the human soul. And it's a short poem to quatrains.

He opens the poem with an apostrophe to the rose. Apostrophe being a direct address to an absent or inanimate object, in this case, the rose. And it turns out to be a lament. Blake is lamenting or mourning a sick rose and already there with symbolism that is implied Blake is putting forward his central thought that what was once lovely and beautiful and full of meaning and romance.

The image of a rose is now sick or decaying or dying in fact and that movement from loveliness and beauty and splendour to corruption and ageing and destruction ultimately. Was one that commanded mourning or demanded mourning I should say that we see by the end of the poem we have a life destroyed.

So the reader can anticipate where Blake's movement in this poem may be headed. He says "O Rose thou art sick" and then he spends the rest of the of the stanza outlining what has caused the illness. He says the invisible worm that flies in the night in the howling storm has done something. And he moves to a second stanza to explain what that worm has done.

The already Blake has clued us into several key descriptors to embody or to give life to or give a character to what has corroded or destroyed this beautiful rose.

He says it is the invisible worm that flies through a howling storm at night and with invisibility already a sense of fear and a sense of uncertainty is provoked. But also with the worm that flies in the night in the howling storm. We already have a great deal of associations summoned for it that of darkness. Perhaps even evil or sinfulness with the worm being an agent of death. Perhaps even ultimate evil and Satan himself. Satan as the serpent of Eden. Sometimes referred to as a worm. And the fact that he how will he flies through the howling storm at night to penetrate and embed himself into the heart of this rose is a very invasive and threatening and aggressive scene that is not too far from a reading of evil and death penetrating deep into the life of things the very heart of Beauty. And the Garden image of the rose and of the worm is one that brings to mind the Genesis account of Eden.

And then line 5 where Blake brings about the sadness of the poem. This worm that has flown through the night and has landed and nestled itself deep into the heart of this rose has found out thy bed quite literally discovered it.

He has unravelled or exposed the very heart of the very essence and center of this poor rose. So the worm embeds itself in the Rose finds out its bed which we might have two meanings here. One being the bed of the rose the literal center of it then secondly you have the image of the marriage the marital bed being found out or being uncovered discovered. And that has a sense of defeat or vulnerability to it or harm that this worm has robbed the bed of the rose the very soul and heart and most intimate innermost meaning of it.

Blake says the worm has found out that bed of crimson joy and his dark secret love does thy life destroy. The pronoun here that is the worm's dark secret love we say love lightly because Blake ironically calls it love we know it not to be the case at all is an agent of destruction to the life of the rose.

So a great deal of antagonism in this poem between two opponents. The rose and the worm most literally but also you have sexuality being defeated or destroyed or corroded from within. You have the phallic symbol of the worm flying through the night into the heart of the Rose to find out its bed. Blake's perhaps a depiction of how something like love and sexuality can be exploited can be destroyed.

But also what experience can do to innocence is perhaps no greater symbol of innocence and romance and loveliness than a pure rose. And yet in the course of this poem, it is destroyed it moves from sickness to death and destruction by this agent of experience.

Analysis of The Sick Rose by William Blake

But also remember Blake is a Romantic poet that it's not a far reading to see this as nature being destroyed or exploited by some invading character some invading agent. Whether that be the depravity of man whether that be civilization itself tears down roses that's not a that's not hard to imagine with the looming advance of industrialization ahead of Blake and ahead of these romantics to see something pure and lovely like nature be tread upon and invaded and destroyed by some external influence.

Blake in just two stanzas is able to depict this Sick Rose as a meaningful symbol of a wide array of things that are quite dear to the human experience. Our own childhood and innocence being lost perhaps our own virginity and sexuality being voted or tainted and perhaps even the world itself nature itself being victim to some penetrative invasive force that this sick rose becomes a meaningful rich and multi-layered symbol for the human soul in fact.


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