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Poem Analysis: "The Sick Rose"

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"The Sick Rose" is a tiny poem that consists of two stanzas, four lines each, and is written by the unconventional poet William Blake. In spite of its tininess, the poem has deep sense. Reading between the lines, one can see that "The Sick Rose" is not simply about a flower which is losing its life and color. Indeed, its meaning is much more profound; it depicts a worm, which obviously symbolizes the devil (Schwartz, 2012), that for all intents and purposes rapes the flower and wipes it out with its love that the author calls secret and dark. Analyzing Blake’s written work, it is easy to see that the depicted relationship between the flying worm and the sick rose represent violence and sex. This shows the main issue that the author wanted to discuss with readers – the darker side of culture, society, and, of course, human nature.

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The small poem reveals four themes, which are love, violence, sex and mortality. The motif of love gives the readers an opportunity to observe this feeling in a completely new form. People usually see love as the purest and the most beautiful feeling ever. However, in this poem, it is depicted in a totally different way. Here, love is “dark and secret” (Blake 83); it is a disease for the rose, which brings only pain and tortures instead of blessed and divine joy and happiness. At the end of the poem, the author tells the readers that the worm kills the rose with his dark feeling of love – this is the theme of violence. The violent act towards the flower is symbolized by the worm’s penetration of the flower’s “bed of crimson joy” (Blake 83). The theme of violence smoothly switches to the subject of sex and amplifies with it. Such phrases as “bed of crimson joy” and “dark and secret love” make a hint that sex is presented in the poem at least to some extent. Despite the fact that William Blake entitled his poem “The Sick Rose”, it is obvious thathis literary work is not only about sickness of the flower, it is about its death. However, the reason of the flower’s death is not its oldness; it is the feeling of love that hurts and slowly kills it. This shows that something that people assume to be undoubtedly good for them may have fatal outcomes.

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The poem by William Blake portrays a sick flower and a worm, which manages to find the flower’s "bed of crimson joy" (Blake 83) – this is the denotation of the poem. The worm’s power, id est the dark love, is a vivid allusion to some kind of vicious sexuality – this is the connotation of the Blake’s literary work.

In his poem “The Sick Rose”, the poet uses the anapestic dimeter – the meter that means that, notionally, each line of the poem should include two anapests, 3 syllable feet, which have 2 unstressed syllables and are followed by a stressed syllable. A good example of anapest is the seventh line of the poem: “And his dark secret love” (Blake 83). Nevertheless, taking into consideration the whole poem, one can notice that the seventh line is the only example of the wholesome anapestic dimeter in it. Many other lines of the poem have a substitution, where a reader can meet a spondee or an iamb instead of one of the anapests, for instance, the line “O rose thou art sick” (Blake 83). Undoubtedly, since only the seventh line is a pure anapestic dimeter, one can state that in writing his poem, William Blake made a lot of substitutions. Perhaps, it would have been more logical if the meter had been defined in a different way. However, substitutions are absolutely suitable in metrics; moreover, anapestic dimeter is not only a beautiful and unusual name for the meter of the poem, but it is also the only possible way in which one can make clear the fact that almost all of the lines consist of 5 syllables. Otherwise, one only could analyze “The Sick Rose” as "5 syllable lines that have no metrical model."

Analyzing the poetic elements, it should be mentioned that such a tiny poem features many of them. From the very beginning, there is an element that is called apostrophe and means the form of address; one can see it in the words “O rose” (Blake 83). Besides, the poem has a lot of metaphors; for instance, “invisible worm” (Blake 83) is a metaphor for worm’s silent act of devastation. “Howling storm” (Blake 83) is a metaphor for the state of the nature, which reminds sounds made by wolves (Fludernik 98). The word “bed” (Blake 83) is a metaphor for the ground where the rose grows. Besides the numerous metaphors, the readers can also see such element as personification since the author attributes the feeling of love, which is a human characteristic, to the worm, which is an animal. Moreover, there are two evident symbols in the poem, which are the rose and the worm; the rose symbolizes the pure and innocent feeling, while the worm stands for the devil.

The historical context of the poem takes its roots in England of 1794 when the most widespread job for women was prostitution. As a result, the so-called act of love (“dark and secret”) could lead to fatal consequences. However, there can be another theory, which reflects the political meaning. In his poem, the poet William Blake represents the sick rose as a feminine figure, which, in turn, represents the rose of his country, England, and means the national identity. Moreover, it is known that the national identity of England was impaired and distorted by, as Blake stated, “the invisible worm” (Blake 83) of ethical decay in England in the early 1790s. The readers can see that the author draws not only on biblical images but also on London's major politics of that time, together with the protest against the manipulations and intrigues of the journalist and politician George Rose (Lumsden 200).

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