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What's the analysis of the poem "The Sick Rose" by Blake?

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alepou | Student, Undergraduate | Salutatorian

Posted January 25, 2010 at 7:00 PM via web

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What's the analysis of the poem "The Sick Rose" by Blake?

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englishteacher72 | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

Posted January 25, 2010 at 9:34 PM (Answer #1)

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The two quatrains in this poem have a rhyme scheme of ABCB.  Since the lines are fairly short, it adds to the dread that can be felt in the poem.  Literally, the speaker is addressing a rose that is sick and dying. A worm has wriggled its way in and infected the rose, thus destroying the rose.  Many critics have interpreted this poem in a sexual way; however, I think that the rose can also symbolize love.  The rose, a symbol of love and beauty, has become infected and is withering away.  Perhaps the love the speaker once shared with his lover is withering away, too, just like the rose.  If you wanted to keep going with that, one could also read this poem as a lover lamenting the illness and eventual death of his love.  Perhaps he or she is watching him or her die. 

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William Delaney | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted June 10, 2014 at 11:59 AM (Answer #6)

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In his fascinating book Psychological Types, psychoanalyst C. G. Jung refers to William Blake's assertion that human beings can be divided into two categories. Jung quotes from Blake's "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell" as follows:

These two classes of men are always upon earth . . . the Prolific and the Devouring.

In other words, there are those who create and produce and those who devour what is produced. These two types of humans are to be met with everywhere in our daily life. The devourers, who are sometimes called vampires these days, do not usually behave in a hostile manner. They are often seemingly kindly and innocent. They are attracted to the prolific people by admiration and affection. They can be very injurious to the people they love and who love them in return. Often they are men who are preying on women--or women who are preying on men. But there are also men who prey on other men and women who prey on other women.

"The Sick Rose" may have been intended as an example of the relationship that often exists between the devourer and the prolific. This kind of parasitical relationship has been going on among living creatures almost since the beginnings of life about three and a half billion years ago. Blake's poem can be read as a warning. If you happen to be one of the prolific types, look out for people who admire and cultivate and flatter you. They may or may not be predators, and they may or may not be aware of what they are doing. The invisible worm that finds a home inside the beautiful rose cannot help being what it is, a predator. It may love the rose for its beauty and fragrance, as well as for the comfortable home and delicious meal the beautiful leaves provide.

Elsewhere in his Psychological Types, Jung writes:

Blake's intuition did not err when he described the two classes of men as "prolific" and "devouring." Just as, biologically, the two modes of adaptation work equally well and are successful in their own way, so too with the typical attitudes. The one achieves its end by a multiplicity of relationships, the other by monopoly.

Sources:

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jmj616 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted January 25, 2010 at 9:32 PM (Answer #3)

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O Rose, thou art sick!

The invisible worm

That flies in the night,

In the howling storm,



Has found out thy bed

Of crimson joy:

And his dark secret love

Does thy life destroy.


On the simplest level, this poem describes a very common, natural event.  A worm (probably an insect, in our terms) flies through the night, lands on a rose, and destroys it by eating its leaves.  "Thy bed of crimson joy" simply refers to the rose's beautiful red color; "his dark secret love" simply refers to the worm's attraction to the rose's color and the sweet taste of its nectar. 

The symbolic meaning of the poem is up for grabs.  To me, the metaphor of the rose and the worm represents the fragile nature of all things beautiful.  No matter how beautiful a person, an object, or a relationship may be, there is always the chance that a worm (an illness, a misunderstanding, a natural disaster, etc.) will destroy it. 

This is the way of the world and there isn't much we can do about it.  We can marvel, however, at how beautifully William Blake expresses this truth.  

There are many other ways to interpret this poem. See the link below for a sampling.

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hartmut133r | Student, Undergraduate | eNoter

Posted February 17, 2012 at 9:54 AM (Answer #2)

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To start off, the background for this poem is set in England in 1794, a time when one of the only jobs a woman could get was one within prostitution. The overall idea of the poem is the spread of syphilis from a man who has had sex with a prostitute then had sex with his wife who happens to be with child. The syphilis is then spready to the child causing severe defects and ultimately death.-The Rose is a metaphore for 'love'. A love that is in some way sick or malfunctioning. The invisible worm references to some type of bacteria or virus, which if looked at under a microscope would look like a worm, and because it is so small would be seen as 'invisible.' meaning that the invisible worm would be syphilis, which happened to be very common in that time. "that flies in the night" means that it is spread in the night in a howling storm, referring to the howling of pleasure, or sex. This references to the man fornicating with the prostitute and then his wife. "And his darke secret love which thy life destroy." This means that because the syphilis was spread to the child it the child's life was lost. -

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drsuman | College Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted March 26, 2013 at 12:34 PM (Answer #5)

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O Rose, thou art sick! 

The invisible worm

That flies in the night,

In the howling storm,



Has found out thy bed

Of crimson joy:

And his dark secret love

Does thy life destroy.

 

the poem's is enigmatic because of its multivalence. blake was obviously using the allegorical mode, where the rose does not merely remain the literal rose. it seems to allegorically represent beauty and love. this pristine beauty and love is sick becuse a worm gnaws into its bed. bed does not merely signify the literal bed, its the bed of the rose tree and therefore symbolise the platform on which the tree grows its roots. once again, it allegorically suggests that the foundation of unadulterated beauty and love decays once a worm feeds upon it. what then does the worm signify. anything mean, slimy and repulsive, destructive in intent. no doubt the worm feeds upon the rose. the multivalency here is that, not merely does it suggest maidenly beauty and love spoilt by sex(which is suggested by the expression"crimson joy'), but broadly and metaphysically speaking, all things of beauty undergo a sickening decay the moment they are struck by desire, desire being metaphysically related to a source of adulteration of purity in any form. Blake is here also critiquing modern culture which stresses upon the secrecy of sexuality, and one has to remember that the worm comes in the night. it is such kinds of secretive credos that ruin the beauty of the rose, symbolising beauty and love in all its forms. finally, a christian reader is well aware with the reference to the "MULTIFOLIATE ROSE" in DIVINIA COMMEDIA. there the multifoliate rose symbolizes spiritual exaltation andspiritual perfection. any worm of dark desire is bound to corrupt such spiritually fulfilled image of beauty. blake is, basically, condemning sexuality which is borne out by blake's line in the “Marriage of Heaven and Hell”: “joys impregnate, sorrows bring forth,” . one should be aware that the sound O recurs in the poem time and again and it suggests the moaning, the groaning big “O,” the sound of love and of death — the little death of the orgasm.

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mkcapen1 | Middle School Teacher | Valedictorian

Posted January 25, 2010 at 10:10 PM (Answer #4)

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The poem "The Rose" is about a relationship that has changed.  A rose in literature represents love.  Relationships often give way to problems.  The worm that has been secretly eating at the rose are the problems that develop in a realtionship.  Like the rose, the realtionship ends.  The lover is left without the person he loves scorned and alone.

The poem is open to many different interpretations.  Other's have ineterpreted it to be about illness and death.  The poem does not have any type of rhyming pattern.

 

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