William Blake The Sick Rose Analysis

“The Sick Rose” is one of the most influential poems by William Blake. The poem was first published in 1794. It was added to his collection of poems  “Songs of Experience”. In this collection of poems, William Blake creates an in-depth analysis of the age of maturity as he creates in “The Sick Rose”. “Songs of Innocence”, on the other hand, talks about the life of innocence. The poem is rich in images, symbols, meanings and themes despite the fact that it consists of only two stanzas.

William Blake The Sick Rose Analysis

Summary Analysis of “The Sick Rose” by William Blake

The poet starts the poem while addressing directly a rose. He uses a literary device of personification. It is a device through which writers and poets give human attributes to none human beings. The poet personifies the rose as if it were a living being. The poet calls the rose “sick”. It creates tension in the minds of readers and they think that something has happened with the rose. It creates curiosity. Indeed, it is a symbol that the poet uses in the first line of the poem. Rose symbolises a beautiful thing whereas the word “sick” promotes themes of decay and corruption.

In the very next line, the poet discloses the reason behind the sickness of the rose. An “invisible worm” is the cause behind her miserable condition. In addition to this image, the poet uses the image of “flies in the night”. Although the poet mentions the worm yet he does not directly addresses it but he personifies it too. Perhaps, the rose is worried because of the unethical act of the worm that flies nearby. It may be the primary reason behind her sickness. 

The poet then set aside the curtains and the readers see what the poet wants to say. He talks about the actions of the “invisible worm” causing the rose sick. The worm symbolises danger in these lines of the poem. The worm haunts the rose and then finds ways to ruin her reputation. The poet refers to the people of his era when women’s virginity was considered the most important thing. Some men whom the poet calls worms indirectly hurt them and ruin their chastity. The worm targets the rose specifically for its beauty and vitality. Similarly, the use of the word “bed” creates a sense of intimacy and vulnerability. It seems that the worm violates the rose in its most private and personal space.

In the final line of the poem, the speaker clears everything and ends the poem. The worm that the poet mentions establishes a relationship of “dark secret love”. It causes the destruction of the rose. “Does thy life destroy” clears that the worm’s actions are leading to the death of the rose.

In a nutshell, an analysis of “The Sick Rose” reflects that it is a beautiful and highly symbolic poem by William Blake. It explores the themes of beauty, corruption, decay and destruction. The poet uses the images of “worm” and “rose” for this purpose. The poem is as fresh today as it was in Blake’s era due to the universality of the subject matter. 

Literary Devices Used in the Poem

  1. Symbolism: The poet uses this literary device to gossip to his readers. The poet uses “the worm” and “rose” with highly symbolic meanings. The rose is a symbol of purity whereas the worm symbolises deception. In addition, the paradoxes that the poet uses are also based on this literary device. The “crimson joy” and “dark secret love” are worth mentioning in this regard.
  2. Personification: It is a literary device that the poet uses to give human attributes to the “rose”. It gives soul to the rose which directly impacts human emotions as if it were a lively creature. The use of personification attracts the emotions and feelings of the readers. 
  3. Rhyme and Meter: “The Sick Rose” follows the AABB rhyme scheme. Each pair of lines ends in a rhyme. The poem also has a simple iambic meter. Each line consists of four iambs. To those who don’t know, an iamb is a metrical foot consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.
  4. Imagery: It is another technique to illustrate themes in a literary work. The poet uses vivid imagery in this poem to discuss some important matters. The “invisible worm” flies in the night and the poet creates a pen picture of that scene. It creates a sense of darkness. The mystery prevails in the poem through imagery. Besides, the image of the “bed” suggests intimacy between the worm and the rose.
  5. Conciseness: The poem is short but its richness lies in its symbols. The poet does not give a description of events but uses exact words for portraying themes. There is no denying the fact that William Blake uses concise language in his poems to depict rich themes. 

Hence, William Blake in his poem “The Sick Rose” uses literary devices to create an analysis of symbolism, personification, rhyme and meter, imagery, and conciseness to depict significant themes.

Themes Analysis of the Poem “The Sick Rose” by William Blake

The poem contains two stanzas but it has a variety of themes. Major themes of “The Sick Rose” by William Blake are:

  1. The Mortality of Beauty: The world is full of beauty but it is not everlasting. The poet proves that even the most beautiful thing fades one day. The speaker talks about the vulnerability of beauty. A tiny worm has the ability to destroy it. If it cannot destroy it then it may corrupt it at least. The poet uses the rose as a symbol of beauty whereas the theme of vulnerability is portrayed through the worm. The poet concludes in the end that beauty is temporary. It is not a joy forever.
  2. Decay and Destruction: Nothing in this world is so strong that cannot be destroyed. The poet proves it in this poem while associating the symbol of destruction with the worm. Beauty is there in the world but it is costly. Firstly, it needs protection from invisible menaces. The poet specifically uses the word “invisible” in order to refer to unseen vulnerabilities. There is always decay in beauty which is unbearable. However, the destruction is more painful than the decay. In this poem, the rose is destroyed or at least corrupted by the worm. 
  3. Deceitful Love: Love gives energy and hopes but deceit annihilates it. The poet William Blake juxtaposes these two different things in his poem “The Sick Rose” while doing an analysis of sinister love. He exemplifies it with the help of a rose and a worm. The rose is at the top of the hitlist of the worm. Finally, it has left it destructed. The phrase “dark secret love” is a clear interpretation of this leading theme.
  4. Hidden Forces: The word hidden symbolises two things. Firstly, it indicates threats that are unseen. Secondly, the poet wants to portray that some dangers are beyond human control. When a person falls in love he does not think about receiving disloyalty. Thus, the disloyalty of the partner is beyond human control. Simultaneously, it cannot be seen. Prima facie, a person may think on a specific point but he can only make an analysis from the probabilities as William Blake shows in his poem “The Sick Rose”. The poet also suggests that we must be vigilant in protecting the things we cherish as beauty comes at a heavy cost.
  5. Nature and the Human Condition: William Blake is a lover of nature. In fact, every romantic poet loves nature more than any other thing in life. “The Sick Rose” is also a commentary on the human condition and the natural world. There is a similarity between humans and natural objects; both are subject to decay and destruction.

Symbolic Analysis of “The Sick Rose” by William Blake

In addition to literary devices, themes and imagery, symbols of the poem also make it one of the most remarkable works of William Wordsworth. Important symbols that the poet uses in the poem are:

  1. The Rose: The first and foremost symbol that the poet uses in this poem is the “rose”. He gives it human attributes to gain the sympathy of readers. It is also a clever technique to arouse feelings. The objects of nature become more sympathetic when they are personified. The poet personifies the flower and gives it human-like attributes. The rose is a powerful symbol of beauty, love, and passion though it is temporary. Ultimately, at the end of the poem, it is revealed that the flower is corrupted. The poet also uses the rose as a symbol of a woman who has lost her chastity.
  2. The Worm: The second important symbol that the poet uses in this poem is of “invisible worm”. It is invisible because it cannot be controlled. The poet uses it for such men who want sinister love affairs in the guise of true love.
  3. Flies in the Night: The worm flies at night means that it wants a secret relationship with the rose. The word “flies” suggest that it has entered into the private space of the rose whereas the night is a symbol of wickedness and evil. 
  4. Crimson Joy: The poet uses the phrase “crimson joy” in this poem. Crimson is a colour and joy is a feeling. Feelings are always colourless. The poet uses the word crimson to point out the beauty of the rose. Actually, the poet wants to say that it is the “crimson” colour of the rose that creates “joy”. The phrase is also used as a synonym for happiness and pleasure. Ultimately, the rose no more remains “crimson joy” as the worm destroys its beauty and corrupts it.
  5. Dark Secret Love: The phrase “dark secret love” that the poet uses in the poem is self-explanatory. It is about the relationship that the worm wants. It is not wrong to say that it is a paradoxical symbol through which the poet William Blake creates an analysis of sinister love. The theme has symbolically symbolised in this phrase. 
  6. Bed: It is the most underestimated symbol in the poem. The poem is concise, therefore, it is crystal clear the poet has not used any extra words in the poem. The poet uses this word to explore the theme of the violation of personal space. It also indicates the sinful desire of the worm which is also his motif as well as the primary theme of this poem.

Line-by-Line Analysis of “The Sick Rose” by William Blake

“O Rose thou art sick.”

The poet starts the poem while directly addressing the rose as if the rose is listening to him. He personifies it and gives it human attributes, therefore, the poet imagines that the rose is listening to him. There is no question mark at the end of the line; therefore, it seems that the poet is telling the rose that he is sick instead of questioning her. The word “sick” sets the tone for the entire poem. The rose does not seem in good condition but the reason behind it is still unknown. There is a gradual development of thought in this poem, hence, the poem progresses gradually. 

“the invisible worm
That flies in the night,”

The poet refers to another image. He creates an imagery of the “worm” who is “invisible”. The poet personifies the worm too. He establishes a connection between the rose and the worm but it is still unclear. There is only an introduction of a worm in this section of the poem which “flies in the night”. A bare analysis of the complete poem “The Sick Rose,” reflects that William Blake symbolises this phrase as a vulnerability for the rose who has entered into the private space of the rose. 

The use of the word “invisible”, on the other hand, emphasizes the unseen danger that the rose faces. The rose is sick because of those dangers. The poet illustrates the theme of decay and destruction in this section of the poem. In addition to it, the flying worm at the night indicates a continuously increasing risk for the rose. The theme of danger also prevails in these lines. As a whole, this section of the poem creates a sense of unease due to the vivid images that the poet uses.

“Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:”

This section of the poem is a clear representation of Blake’s era. In those days, relationships between men and women ended in bed. Many women after losing their virginity found that true love no more remained true for them. The poet manifests the modern relationship. At the same time, he talks about the beauty of women. Nonetheless, the worm wants sinister love from the rose. The poet discloses rose’s cause of sickness. The worm has “found out thy bed of crimson joy” which indicates his wicked thoughts.

The worm has come closer to the rose. The word “bed” promotes the theme of intimacy whereas the poet uses the phrase “crimson joy” as a metaphor to describe the beauty of the rose. The contrast between the joyful, crimson colour of the rose and the wicked destructive nature of the worm creates a sense of tragedy. This section of the poem “The Sick Rose” by William Blake creates an analysis of the themes of corruption and decay. It is also the central theme of this poem. 

“And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.”

There is a “dark secret love” affair between the rose and the worm. Symbolically, it is about the relationship that the poet witnesses around him. On a daily basis these are increasing, hence, the poet feels a necessity to write on this topic. Being a poet, he uses the technique of symbolism to convey his message to the world. The “invisible worm” wants to have a “dark secret love” and it is the only reason for the sickness of the rose. 

The word “love” may have been used by many poets in a positive context. However, when the poet creates the complete phrase “dark secret love” then it means the word has been used in a negative context. In other words, it symbolises destructiveness. 

The poet ends the poem while asking a question from the rose “Does thy life destroy”? He asks the rose whether the worm has destroyed your life. Indeed the answer is positive. The worm leads the rose to death. The life of the rose has been destroyed due to the worm’s influence. The word “destroy” concludes the gloomy theme of the poem.


In view of the above, “The Sick Rose” by William Blake is a highly symbolic analysis of day-to-day affairs. The poet witnessed something and felt that others should also realise it, hence, he wrote this poem. It also underscores the idea that the corruption of beauty and vitality can come from unexpected sources. The poet highlights the themes of decay and destruction in “The Sick Rose”.

By admin