The Sick Rose - Language, tone and structure

Language and tone

This is an apparently simple poem in terms of diction and directness of address, yet it is full of associations. Its power comes from our ideas about language such as:

  • ‘sick'
  • ‘worm'
  • ‘howling storm'
  • ‘thy bed of dark crimson joy'
  • ‘dark secret love'.

Investigating language and tone

  • List all the connotations of the words discussed in this section
  • Decide which of them apply to this poem and what they suggest about it.

Structure and versification

There are two quatrains rhyming ABCB. The monosyllables of the first line make it emphatic and ponderous. The sense of foreboding in the poem is enhanced by the rhymes – ‘worm' / ‘storm'; ‘joy' / ‘destroy'. Lines 2 – 8 are one sentence. This emphasises the notion that the situation being described is one unified, uninterruptable experience. The momentum of the poem is similarly inescapable. We move from the end of the first sentence – ‘sick' to the end of the second closing sentence ‘destroy'.

Investigating structure and versification

  • Try reading the poem aloud, on one breath per sentence, varying:
    • Volume
      • From loud to quiet
      • From quiet to loud
    • Pace
      • Increasing speed
      • Decreasing speed
    • Emotion
      • Fear
      • Excitement
      • Other ideas
    • What do these readings add to your understanding of the poem?
    • Are any more ‘successful' than others?
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