The Sick Rose Summary by William Blake
Rare Mysticism of Blake –
William Blake’s position among the English poets is unique. He is a class by himself. Though he is considered one of the major poets among the precursors of the great Romantic Movement, Blake does not belong to any literary tradition before or after him. He did not have any formal education and he was trained as an engraver and illustration artist and all his life he worked as a professional artist in publishing houses.
He was deeply religious in the Christian tradition. He came under the influence of Emanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish scientist turned mystic of 18th century. His journal of miraculous visions or ‘arcana’ of heaven and earth caused much stir in those days. Blake himself saw visions from the early age of four when he saw the face of Jesus in the window. His poems, published privately with his own illustration and engravings reflect his mystic spirit and in many cases oracle-like and prophetic. Such poems are quite rare in the world of English Poetry.
Dialectical vision of the world – Blake’s poem ‘The Tyger’ begins with these oft-quoted rhythmic lines
‘Tyger, Tyger, burning bright, In the forests of the night;’
But from wondering about the dexterity of the creator in shaping the fierce robustness of the tyger, Blake gives vent to his candid wonder about the same creator’s role in moulding the meek Lamb
‘Did he who made the Lamb make thee?’
The world of Blake is thus a vision of dialectical or opposing forces-fierce and meek, good and evil, innocence and experience, purity and corruption, life and death. ‘The Sick Rose’ also presents this intrinsic interplay of opposing forces. Critics have opined that ‘The Sick Rose’, a poem included in ‘The Songs of Experience’ was written as sequel to ‘The Blossom’, a poem in the anthology ‘The songs of Innocence’ and records Blake’s hypothesis about the decay of innocence by the dawning of worldly experience.
Along with ‘The Tyger’, ‘The Sick Rose’ of William Blake is very popular with generations of readers. This short two quatrained (8 lines) Poem has captured the imagination of readers for centuries for its lyrical fervour and powerful imageries. But its meaning has eluded both readers and critics. Some have labelled it as ‘baffling’ while others call it a mystic poem, written in the line of ancient Greek gnomic poems containing cryptic message inside its surface meaning.
The nearly elusive theme of ‘The Sick Rose’
In ‘The Sick Rose’ we find a poetic voice calling Rose and warning it with urgent caution that an invisible worm has entered into its core and has been corrupting it to death. He has also told about the dark secret intention of the invisible worm which hovers in the night of howling storm. For centuries readers as well as at the critics have been trying to find out a meaning behind this surface of agonising and powerful lyrical outburst.
Some are of the opinion that rose in this poem is a symbol of innocence, purity and love which is being corrupted by experience, deceit and worldliness. Others think that the poem is an allusion to the corruption of celestial love by the carnal desire and dark side of sexuality. While some have offered their hyper-imaginative explanation that the poem is addressed not to a flower but to a woman named ‘Rose’ (a very common name in English world) who is the victim of a deceitful love-affair causing her spiritual death.
Symbols in ‘The Sick Rose’:
Symbols are integral parts of Blake’s poetry but it is difficult to decipher the symbolical suggestion of Blake as he is mostly private in his symbolism. We have at least three distinct symbols used in the poem-the Rose, the worm and the colour scarlet. Traditionally ‘rose’ is a symbol of love, also womanhood, a beautiful girl and sometimes even the female sexual organ.
The worm, on the other hand, is a symbol of decay, corruption as we find in the popular expression ‘canker in the rose.’ But biblically worm is also suggestive of the serpent or the satan, in the guise of a green snake that seduced the first woman Eve to eat the fruit initiating the fall of man.
Again, worm is often associated with male sex-organ or phallic symbol. ‘Crimson’ is the colour of life-blood and ecstatic carnal bliss and also the shame. According to the Bible it is the colour of sin and vice in contrast to the pure white colour of innocence and virtue. From the strong sexual undertone of the poem it appears that nearly all the symbolical meanings have been alluded to in the poem ‘The Sick Rose.”
The poem ‘The Sick Rose’, a short and descriptive poem by William Blake, was first published in 1974. It was included in Blake’s collection entitled ‘Songs of Experience’ in the plate no. 39. The text was presented with illuminated boarder and illustrations that were typical of his self-publications. The printing was done by Blake’s wife Catherine.
The poet addresses a rose in the poem. He informs the rose that it is sick. An ‘invisible’ worm, flies its bed in a ‘howling storm’ in the night. The worm’s ‘dark love’ destroys the rose’s life. The poet is very upset when he that the rose is dying. The rose can also be looked at a symbol of purity and innocence that is corrupted by the evil-the worm. The rose and the worm represents two opposite concepts. Blake is talking about the corruption of good in this poem and his anguish when witnessing the dying of the rose.
CENTRAL IDEA OF THE POEM
In ‘The Sick Rose’ the poet addresses a rose and warns it about a worm that has found its bed. The rose is unaware that the evil worm is eating out its innermost core and leading it towards death. But beneath this simple narrative of the rose and the worm the poet tells us about a more relevant moral issue. The rose which is a symbol of innocence is corrupted by the worm of worldly experience of lust, greed and passion. In this way our innate innocence is corroded by the dark worldly experience but we are hardly aware of this erosion like the rose in the poem.
TITLE OF THE POEM
The title of the poem ‘The Sick Rose’ directly hints about the main narrative in the poem. Without much ado the poet calls a rose and tells the flower that she is Sick. Then he explains the cause of the rose’s illness. He relates that an invisible worm that flies in the stormy night has entered into the flower’s innermost core and with his dark secret love is destroying the life of the rose. Thus, the title, quite competently encompasses the thematic content of the poem, namely, the sickness of the rose. Again, the title with its hint of personification indicates its allegorical undertone.