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The sick rose

Oh Rose, thou art sick!

Oh 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.

William Blake
This poem comes from William Blake’s Songs of Experience. I have always enjoyed it but not because of any deep message I can, with any confidence, unravel. Indeed it always seems to me a bit whining. The rose here has a ‘bed of crimson joy’ so the ‘joy’ here has to do with love. But the rose is ‘sick’ because of an ‘invisible worm’ which represents a ‘dark secret love’ and the love is ‘crimson’. The mystery is why love should involve death?

I enjoyed the poem partly because it is mysteriously simple and partly because I once heard a rendition of it by Allen Ginsberg which is mantra-like – you can listen to it here but it is with a lot of other stuff. In the Ginsberg version the words ‘storm’ and ‘destroy’ are stretched out while the rest is staccato and the punctuation doesn’t follow that given above. I can remember taking a bus trip through the Queensland countryside 30 years ago and repeating it endlessly in my head along the lines of Ginsberg’s recitation.

There are numerous discussions of this beautiful, enigmatic, poem. Most relate to the way we think about sexuality when experience or seduction destroys innocence. It could also be a satire on puritanical attitudes toward sex.

5 comments to The sick rose

  • Chidori Ashi Kun

    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.

    — William Blake

  • Chidori Ashi Kun

    have you been cheating Harry?

  • hc

    No, day-by-dreary day, on the long march to boot hill.

    I hadn’t thought this had to do with cheating but maybe.

  • Chidori Ashi Kun

    Poor Rose is sick with jealousy and grief because her male partner has a bit on the side.

    Perhaps Rosy is a little frigid?

  • Ziha's de purple

    Do you think that ‘the sick rose’ and ‘my pretty rose tree’ by william blake in the song of experience have any connection? Actually,the rose here is symbolized of what?

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