The Sun Rising

by John Donne

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Student Question

Why is the rose a significant symbol in English literature, particularly in romantic love literature?

Expert Answers

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The rose has an interesting history, and some of it might explain the significance of the rose in English history and early English literature. Roses have existed for thirty-five million years, but the practice of cultivating roses didn't reach Europe until the late 1700s. Roses were prized long before then, however, in England. In the 1400s, the House of York chose the white rose as its symbol, while the House of Lancaster was symbolized by the red rose. The struggle for power between the two was known, then, as "The War of the Roses." Roses became identified with royalty, and because roses were  so rare, they were valued tremendously. Because they were rare, beautiful, and highly prized, they became suitable symbols for love, especially romantic love. The association of a red rose with the heart's blood is easy to understand. In all of its aspects (including its thorns), the rose lends itself to the many connotations of love.

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