Thank you Google.
First of all, let me introduce myself. In real life I'm an English
teacher. I've taught Blake to students several times, and every time I
get a different perspective on this poem. It's the most frustrating,
and yet the most exciting poem I know. When I was a student myself I
remember puzzling over it for hours, trying to 'solve' the poem as
though it were a crossword puzzle.
The trouble is, there's no right answer to the question "what is this
poem talking about?". To put it another way: there are many right
answers. What I'd like to do is go through my own thoughts on the
poem, then point you towards some different interpretations online.
However, what I'd like to do - after all, I'm a teacher - is to try
and give you pointers towards finding *your own* interpretation of the
First of all: the language of the poem. Blake has used thirty-four
words in 'The Sick Rose'. Twenty-nine of these are single syllables.
The effect of this is to make the poem seem very simple - it has a
nursery rhyme quality, almost.
The vocabulary of the poem is also very simple. Blake has chosen to
use basic words like 'storm' and 'night' - words which have simple
meanings but also many associations. Think of all the things you
associate with the word 'night', for instance: darkness, sleep,
dreams, sex, and so on. The key to working out an interpretation of
the poem is to look at the associations of the words. As you read it,
think about and jot down what the words mean to you.
What is the rose? There are positive words associated with it: 'life'
and 'joy'. Roses are symbols of love, of femininity, of beauty, of
sexuality. The rose is also 'crimson', a very deep red which could
suggest passion, or blood, or sin (as in 'scarlet woman'). It also has
a 'bed' - again, this could have sexual associations, or it could
suggest being 'rooted' and passive.
The worm, by contrast, is active and seems entirely negative. It is
'invisible', 'dark', 'secret'; it 'finds out' and 'destroys'. The worm
is sneaky - already invisible, it travels under the cover of darkness.
It 'loves' the rose, yet its love is completely destructive.
Blake is inviting us to see the rose and the worm as symbols - they
must 'stand for' something - but it is hard to know for certain what
that something is. A common interpretation is that the rose represents
beauty and innocence and the worm represents corruption and decay -
all beauty must inevitably grow rotten. The collection of poems in
which 'The Sick Rose' appeared, 'Songs of Experience', is full of
images of innocence becoming corrupted and ruined. Alternatively, a
feminist might see the rose as symbolising a woman and the worm a man,
which destroys the rose's life with his oppressive 'love'. A religious
reading might see the worm as being a close relative of the serpent in
the Garden of Eden, corrupting the innocent beauty of humanity with
Any interpretation, though, will look at the use of opposites in the
poem. The worm and the rose are opposites - the worm is invisible,
fast-moving, destructive; the rose is crimson, static, and joyful.
They are in conflict; as a result, the rose ends up being slowly
I hope I've given you a key to understanding how this poem works, but
if I haven't been clear enough, please ask for further clarification.
Here are some sites you should find useful for further study:
This is an excellent site, with hypertext annotations for the poem:
The Sick Rose
A useful exercise for working out your own interpretation is suggested
Blake, The Sick Rose
SparkNotes: The Sick Rose (you will need to register to read this, but
it's free to do so)
One True Thing About Blake
They talk about it for many more pages on the google source link I wrote at the top of the quote block.
And now my contribution:
Roses are red
Violets are blue
All my base
Are belong to you
Roses are red
Violets are blue
UB owns my productivity
and now it owns yours too
Okay, so the last one sucked, but hey, I tried.