The Sick Rose - Synopsis and commentary

Synopsis of The Sick Rose

The Sick Rose

The speaker is telling a rose that it is sick. An invisible worm that flies by night in a howling storm has penetrated its bed or centre. Its secretive love is destroying the rose's life.

The poem adopts an abstract approach to the theme dealt with in The Chimney Sweeper (E). Shame and guilt results in attitudes to sexuality and physicality which bring sickness and death rather than life. Many critics find that it eludes definite interpretation. It may be seen as a companion poem to The Blossom in the Songs of Innocence.


This is an elusive poem which needs to be read in the light of Blake's beliefs about sexuality and as a Song of Experience.

Experience after the Fall

Experience tends towards dominance, establishing itself as the only vision of reality. That reality is the reflection of fallen human nature (See Religious / philosophical background > Blake's religious outlook > Blake's view of the Fall of Adam and Eve.). This distorts and corrupts human love and sexuality by making it a thing of shame – hence it is ‘secret'. Just as Adam and Eve had to hide from God once they had disobeyed him, so the worm flies under cover of night.

There is something insidious about the worm ‘finding out' the rose's bed, suggesting an action without consent. It is a silent assault which causes destruction. The poem conveys that the love of fallen individuals is one that assaults and devours when it is associated with shame and secrecy, rather than being liberating, creative and joyous.

Investigating The Sick Rose

  • Do you think a poem like this can have an impact on you even if you aren't sure what it means?
  • Compare it with The Blossom in the Songs of Innocence.
  • Do you find any contrasts or points of contact between these two?
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