Symbolism found in “The Sick Rose”

“The Sick Rose” By William Blake


the sick rose by william blake

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.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

William Blake’s dark poem “The Sick Rose” was published in 1789 in his small book of poems called “Songs of Innocence”. Throughout his lifetime he was mostly unrecognized and received little praise. However, nowadays Blake is viewed as an influential figure in the history of the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age. It is easy to see why, “The Sick Rose” is a small piece yet it holds deep meaning and symbolism.

Firstly let’s look at the literal meaning; “The Sick Rose” is a short free verse concerning a flower, “O Rose”, that became sick due to an “invisible worm”. This worm damages the rose when it finds “thy bed of crimson joy” with his “dark secret love”. Basically, if you look at this poem from the surface you get an image of a flower that becomes infected by a worm during a dim stormy night. “The Sick Rose” is a rose being preyed upon by a merciless worm, which will probably lead to its death. It seems like an unfortunate and unjust situation. The choice of words gives the readers a dark, perhaps sinister, impression.

Symbols are capable of getting multiple concepts across and are a highly useful technique when it comes to poetry. Blake probably had deeper meanings for his poem. The rose and the action of the worm can be taken symbolically. The Rose can be a person, a female who has her virginity stolen from her by the “invisible worm”; this worm is a man who lacks in morals. He “flies in the night” and rapes her, hence she becomes “sick”. The word sick can also mean that she is not pure anymore, as she has been physically corrupted. The description of the “howling storm” demonstrates a situation where everything is chaotic and shattered, much like the emotions of the female. Moreover, the “dark secret love” the man experiences is his pleasure in devouring the girl. This pleasure is “dark” as it is evil and it is “secret” as this situation will probably not be shared with anyone, not by the woman or the man. Finally the poem finishes with the line “Does thy life destroy”, hence we can assume the female’s life has been permanently damaged by the rape. Overall, this poem represents the ominous aspects of life, especially the human life.

The symbolism Blake has applied strengthens his poems and gives it a beautiful creative flair, and at the same time gives the readers an opportunity to decipher the veiled messages.


2 thoughts on “Symbolism found in “The Sick Rose”

  1. Omg I love William Blake’s poem. I have read his “Lamb Of God” taken from songs of innocence. Read that too. These poems are so meaningful. Also read Robert Frost’s “Stopping By The Wood On A Snowy Evening”. Love these.
    Did you write the summary on your own? Is it for your Uni work?

    • I haven’t read those two, must check them out! Sounds interesting!

      I wrote this for university last year, but I revised it and shortened it today to post on here 😀

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