The Sick Rose
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.
Poet: William Blake (1757-1827)
An Attempted Summary and Commentary
Yeah… so I’m no poet but this one by William Blake never fails to strike me in a way I just can’t describe. There’s pain, forlorn, a sudden realization, a pang of guilt, and pure amazement of how a person perfectly collided a literal and figurative interpretation of a rose.
The Sick Rose was first published in 1794; the 39th plate of William Blake’s Songs of Experience. The two quatrains of this poem rhyme ABCB. The ominous rhythm of these short, two-beat lines contributes to the poem’s sense of foreboding or dread and complements the unflinching directness with which the speaker tells the rose she is dying.
The rose is a representation of a natural object itself, as well as a literary rose, which has long been linked to love. The worm, in my own understanding, is both a phallic symbol and a resonance of death and decay. So in saying that the rose is sick, the poem also talks about a doomed or “sick” love – “bed” being the flowerbed of the plant and the lovers’ bed.
Figuratively, the poem denotes an allegory of how love is prone into not recognizing its own ailing state, as a real rose itself, obviously, is oblivious of the existence of the worm that corrupts it.
While love is a thing of joy itself, there are elements which can infect it – albeit the human mind has the tendency of refusing to believe it, or unaware of it at all.
It is both sexual and sensual – the joy one feels sexually, whether be it lust or true love, can be the source of shame afterwards. Ironically, rather than there being any joyful openness, or even any sense of mutual warmth about the union between male and female in this poem, ‘love’ turned out to be a secret, something dark and perhaps perverted, and its effect on the rose is destructive.