The Sick Rose: Poem About Love, Arousal and Destruction

Cover image for the article The Sick Rose

There are not many poems that are very short yet immensely powerful. In that small group, The Sick Rose by William Blake is definitely present and with just a single read, one can understand why. The poem was published in 1794 in the anthology called The Songs of Experience. The poem is about love, desire, passion, arousal, and of course, all the destructive power associated with them. 

There are just eight lines in the poem divided into two stanzas. Rose and the invisible worm and their interaction and contrasting nature are the focus of this poem. The meaning and message of the poem will be discussed later. Take a look at the poem;

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.

An oxymoronic name 

The term Sick Rose is not about a rose that is ill or not in good health, it is rather an oxymoron, where two contrary terms are placed together creating a paradoxical meaning. Rose is something beautiful, an almost perfect rendition of the flower. Sickness is not something associated with rose. What qualities did the rose have to be called sick? It is not the qualities that directly made the rose get the moniker, it is rather a living agent; the worm. 

O Rose, thou art sick:

The invisible worm,

That flies in the night

In the howling storm,

Blake introduces the invisible worm, a creature that flies in the night in the howling storm. This worm is more of a metaphorical creature than a real one. Yes, it also represents the phallus while the rose represents a virgin girl. 

The worm is invisible because of its sly nature, it is usually hidden and so are its intentions. It flies in the night means that it comes out at night when our sexual desires are most active, and we are most susceptible to committing moral crimes of passion. 

The howling storm is another allusion to a wave of passion that ravages everything that has been firmly set in the minds and hearts. The Rose’s roots that sit deep inside the grounds are challenged by this howling storm where it is almost uprooted. 

Has found out thy bed

Of crimson joy;

And his dark secret love

Does thy life destroy.

The worm has found its way to the bed of the Rose. This is the place of crimson joy. The word “crimson joy” here refers to many things and all those things come under sexual pleasure. The red or crimson color is associated with passion, with love but it is also associated with something dangerous. Here, crimson joy is both, a dangerous form of passion, brought upon by the dark secret love of this invisible worm. 

Now slowly but surely, the life of the rose is being destroyed by the dark love of this worm. It is that dark love that has made the rose sick. It would be right to compare the actual event, taking everything literally and then extracting the metaphorical meaning from it. 

The Sick Rose poem by William Blake
The Sick Rose by William Blake

The essence 

A worm that sneaks into the rose and starts deteriorating it. Worms represent decay and rotting while the rose is completely opposite. It sits elegantly, beautiful and fierce with fragrance emanating. This is how the real interaction between the worm and rose happens.

In metaphorical terms, the rose is a girl, unaware of thoughts that stain her mind. This rose is then visited by the worm on a stormy night. The worm is a corrupting thought that penetrates the innocence of the mind. The shape of the worm which resembles the phallus suggests that the idea is of passion, of sexual pleasure, but not love. Crimson love represents sexual pleasure as well as guilt. It is about pervertedness, about something unacceptable. This idea, this thought is what corrupts. 

Coming to real life, irrespective of your gender or age, repressed sexual thoughts are some of the most powerful and offensive forces for your mind. These thoughts that are deemed pervert or wrong inside your mind will rot you from the inside. These thoughts resurface in dangerous forms, taking ugly shapes and affecting your character. 

This concludes the article, but it shouldn’t conclude your reading. Take a look at these poems by the same poet, William Blake:

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