The Sick Rose by William Blake | Summary, Analysis, Theme, Symbolism

The Sick Rose by William Blake | Summary, Analysis, Theme, Questions and Answers

William Blake The Sick Rose

William Blake’s ‘The sick Rose‘ is a poem taken from The Songs of Experience. It is really difficult a poem to understand fully because basically the poem is symbolical in nature highlighting Blake’s own created philosophy. Any poem written by Blake can be explained from different levels – personal political psychological mythological and archetypal interpretations because Blake followed the ancient sacred tradition of prophets and thinkers with spiritual insight. So ours effort will be to understand the simplest symbolical level of understanding. The poem ‘The Sick Rose‘ presents a vision of a rose attacked in a stormy night by a destructive worm. Symbolically we may say that it refers to the destruction of love by selfishness, of heavenly innocence by materialistic experience, of spiritual life by physical lust.

William Blake as a Poet

William Blake was the foremost poet of the group called the ‘Precursors of Romanticism. From boyhood days he had the visions. So his poetry glows with spiritual intensity and is simple and sublime. As he was a professionally trained engraver, he published his own poems using process called ‘illuminated printing’. So to understand his poems in a much better way, the painting and engraving with the original poem help a lot.

Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience

These two volumes of poems reveal Blake’s philosophy the best. Human life on this earth can be divided into days of innocence’ and ‘the days of experience. A newly born babe is the symbol of innocence, is as innocent as God Himself. All the qualities of God – simplicity gentleness, meekness and mildness are perceived in a little child. With the progress of time, the child becomes involved in materialistic pleasure more and more and becomes forgetful about the previous heavenly existence. The child, as grows commits sinful activities one after another and those sinful activities are called worldly experience. He or she makes himself or herself more and more away from God and enters into the world of experience, the painful days. Though the world of experience is painful for everyone, it is needed because with death on this earth, the soul goes back to the world of better innocence, the abode of God, Heaven, wherefrom it came first as a little child on this earth. This philosophy of Blake gets the full expression.

Substance of The Sick Rose

The speaker, addressing a rose, informs it that it is sick. An invisible worm, that normally flies under the cover of night, and in the midst of extreme storm has entered into the bed of the rose. The bed of the rose is of red warm joy. And the worm’s dark, secret love destroys the life of the rose itself.

Central Idea

Apparently the poem is about a rose and a worm, but obviously there is some hidden meaning in the poem. Thus ‘rose’ and ‘worm’, ‘joy’ and ‘destroy’ are paired off. The first words in each pair suggest beauty and happiness, whereas the second words in each pair suggest evil and destruction. It seems to us that the dark secret lover, travelling in a stormy night stealthily found out the warmth of the ‘bed of crimson joy and destroys its life. While good or virtue is indicated by ‘bed of crimson joy’, evil is indicated by a number of words, like ‘sick’, ‘worm’, ‘night’, ‘storm’, ‘dark’, ‘secret’, ‘destroy’ etc.

The Sick Rose Poem Summary

The advent of genuine romanticism in English literature occurred and flourished with the publication of Lyrical Ballads in 1798 by Wordsworth and Coleridge. A group of poets took birth with immense potential just before that romantic period. William Blake was one of them with real genius. He followed the old sacred tradition of prophets and thinkers with spiritual insight

The poem ‘The Sick Rose’, included in Songs of Experience symbolically presents human life on this earth. When a child takes birth, actually his/her soul freshly comes from the abode of God, so purity is a vital part of childhood days. But with advancement on earth, everyone must have to enter into the world of experience, which is always painful, torturing for the soul. So, days of experience are the days of sinfulness.

The poem The Sick Rose tells us how the beauty and soft youth of a rose becomes destroyed by a worm. The speaker addresses the rose and informs it that it is sick. An invisible worm that normally flies under the cover of night and in the midst of extreme storm has entered into the bed of the rose. The bed of the rose is of red warm joy. And the worm’s dark, secret love destroys the life of the rose itself.

The dark secret love of the worm is actually the path of destruction of the innocence and beauty of the rose. Here the rose symbolically stands for innocence, and it is destructed by the worm, the agent of the world of experience. So symbolically the presentation is unique.

The Sick Rose By William Blake Analysis

The Sick Rose is a poem not only symbolical but also with moral meanings. The world of innocence becomes destroyed by the world of experience, the phase of spiritual existence surrenders to grossly materialistic pleasure that brings spiritual death. The rose which stands for purity or innocence is perhaps, ruined by experience – the worm. Again the rose which is the symbol of love is perhaps destroyed by selfishness and physical lust. The rose which is a symbol of beauty is dragged down on earth by jealousy and ugliness. So in our earth every good is surrounded by evils.

In William Blake’s ‘The Sick Rose’ both the world of innocence and the world of experience are presented. Where the rose is the symbol of beauty and innocence, worm is the symbol of experience and spiritual death where innocence is destroyed by experience. All these are God’s design. Innocence must show the path to the world of experience how much painful it may be for the sake of the world of better innocence, the Heaven.

In the poem, the poet informs the rose about the secret attack of a worm to destroy it. The rose is youthful, beautiful and with soft heavenliness. In the midst of howling storm of the night, in the midst of darkness the worm has entered into the bed of the rose. The bed is with warm crimson joy. So it is sorrowful that the rose will be destroyed by the evil nature of the warm.

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Here, in the poem “The Sick Rose’, the rose which stands for purity and innocence is ruined by the worm, the experience. While good or virtue is described by ‘bed of crimson joy, evil is indicated by a number of words like sick, storm, night, howling storm, dark, secret destroy. So it shows that on this earth good is surrounded by evil. This is the moral lessons from the poem.

The Sick Rose Analysis Line By Line

Lines – 1: Thou art sick – you are sick,

The poem opens with the address of the speaker to the rose telling the rose that it is sick,

Lines – 2-4: Invisible (adj) – that cannot be seen, not visible,

Worm (n) – small creatures that causes disease,

Howling [adj] – very great extreme,

Storm – violent weather condition with strong wind,

The worm is described as invisible. Probably as it flies in night, in darkness, the small worm remains invisible. It can also fly in the midst of great stormy night. The description of the worm and its journey in the night denotes evil, deceit hypocrisy and pain.

Lines – 5-6:

Crimson – red in colour,

The worm has found out the bed of the rose. It is the place of crimson, warm joy. Crimson joy may denote physical, earthly pleasure which provides warmth but ultimately brings spiritual destruction and death.

Lines – 7-৪ :

Secret– hidden,

Destroy – destruct,

Love is normally associated with life, but here as the love is ‘dark’ and ‘secret’ it brings destruction for the rose. So here the love is not spiritual, it is physical, sexual, earthly.

The Sick Rose Theme

  1. Innocence overpowered by Experience
  2. Love
  3. Sex
  4. Destruction
  5. Transience of Physical Beauty
  6. Evil Intention

Symbolism in The Sick Rose

  1. The Rose – Allegorically the rose is a conventional symbol of love. It also symbolizes beauty, innocence and purity.
  2. The Worm- The image of the worm echoes the biblical serpent. Worms are inclined to earthbound, so they symbolize death, decay and destruction.
  3. Bed- The bed into which the worm enters symbolizes the lover’s bed.
  4. Dark Secret Love- suggest the deceptive nature of the worm
  5. Crimson- The colour crimson symbolizes the secret passion
  6. Crimson Joy- It stands for sensual joy or sexual gratification.

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