The folllowing sample essay on The Sick Rose William Blake discusses it in detail, offering basic facts and pros and cons associated with it. To read the essay’s introduction, body and conclusion, scroll down.
From time immemorial, the civilization is worried to keep society wrapped under its fold with set principles, be it on the subjective or on the objective plane. The codes of conduct were formulated and the yardsticks of ethics and morality have since been continuing to define themselves, evolving towards new dimensions; so much so, that they have started redefining the very concept of social cordoning itself. And this ongoing process is conducted by a voluntary and involuntary participation of the human beings themselves- the first group is doing this through the formulation and bindings of regulations by synthesizing the proceedings of the society, while the second group contribute their part through their creations, containing the current trend of the society along with the possible consequences of that trend. Such an example is the poem of William Blake, “The Sick Rose”, which have been continuing to bemuse us with its undermined content on infidelity, which is time winning, and still hints at the consequences of it. This paper has a definitive aim of identifying that undermined content and to decipher it in the light of the present time, however, within its scope of limited words. The Poem, its period and the poetThe Sick Rose O rose, thou art sick!The invisible wormThat flies in the night,In the howling storm, Has found out thy bedOf crimson joy,And his dark secret loveDoes thy life destroy.William Blake (1757 – 1827)The multidimensional approach of this poemThe enigma of this poem lies in its ability to accommodate a wide variety of interpretation, even to the extent of one idea contradicting the other. Blake’s mastery in structuring the poem makes the allegory and symbols submitting to its pattern-weaving force of the ideas about images and role of women, which are even stretchable to determine the most acceptable formula of a collective, joyful living. As for example, we can examine the word- ‘howling storm’. One can count it as an indicator of the societal buzz, or a premonition of doomsday, or the inner melancholy of our own! In any case, it is the carrier of the worm. That brings us to the coinage of the word ‘worm’, placed here as in intruding component from the larger situation that creates the ‘howling storm’. Here the thought element of infidelity first takes the shape of a worm, representing its crude and surreptitiousness, before anthropomorphizing itself. But, at the same time, the worm is ‘invisible’. That forces the reader to take another turn and think that the worm could be that idea which represents the evil of the society or the one that resides in the heart of an individual, which gets manifested with the touch of the dark and mystery. These examples actually substantiate Blake’s attempt to cover the gamut of the subject infidelity with short, crisp words that are capable of covering most of the aspects of infidelity, all the while appealing to the women to take the cudgels to steer clear the society towards more joyful living.In other words, this poem hints at the consequences of exercising infidelity at any level of our existence by portraying it as a dangerous element, capable of destructing the recognized, mutually consented way of living. This exposition also speaks of his attempt to endorse the institution of marriage as the root source of overall development to achieve happiness both individually and collectively, and not at the expense of the sorrow of any other component of the society. This explanation can be instanced by Blake’s lifelong loyalty to his wife Catherine.Period InterpretationsThe Sick Rose always remained at the center of hot debate, which has gained more momentum in the 20th century, when many books were published, each explaining its own interpretation of the poem, mostly relying on the fragmented part of the totality that the poem suggested at. However, most of the critics could not totally bypass the issue of infidelity, as evidenced by their critiques themselves. As for example, Harold Pagliaro (Selfhood and Redemption in Blake’s Songs1987) explores the character of the speaker from a psychological perspective and arrives at the conclusion as “there is a solid likelihood that the sexual drama outlined in the poem is internal, part of Rose’s dream or fantasy life, and that she knows little or nothing about it”. (1) Another critic, E. D. Hirsch (Innocence and Experience, 1964, 1975), finds “The Sick Rose satirizing sexual repression”, and the invisible worm which destroys the Rose is a shame which “an invention of the human brain”, a shame that “perverts enjoy”.(1)Somewhat same idea was echoed by D.G. Gillham (Blake’s Contrary States, 1966) who claimed that “The Sick Rose tries to satirize the ‘unhealthy’ attitude to sexual love”. (1) Robert F. Gleckner suggests that enslavement is one aspect of experience (“Enslave or be enslaved”), while according to Bowra, another critic, “The Sick Rose” identifies the night of the “howling storm” as the “night of experience”(261), in which “enslaved man (and woman) secretly practice the joys of day” (262). These interpretations nonetheless indicate towards the subject that lies at the core of the poem, i.e., infidelity. S. Foster Damon’s (1924 text) writes, “Blake believes in an innocent, pure-minded love, and the worm represents the lust/love of experience that comes in the night to destroy the innocent love”. (1). According to Harold Bloom (Blake’s Apocalypse: A Study in Poetic Argument, 1963), the “dark secret love” of the rose is a “jealous lust for possession of the Devourer, the reasonable Selfhood that quests only to appropriate” (135). Here Bloom argues that the rose is less innocent than might first appear to the reader, and that opens another avenue of thought, as to why Blake issued his appeal to the rose and not to worm, which supposedly represents a male. Another critic, E. D. Hirsch took a smilar stance to Bowra, by saying ” although a poem (Sick Rose) about “Beauty destroyed by Evil” (233), it is also about a sickness manifested by the rose’s ignorance of her disease” (234). Hirsch went on to identify several contrary elements in the poem that indicates the perverted disease (“destructive of secret love [and] its unnaturalness”) that plagues the rose (for example, “dark secrecy with crimson joy”) (235), while concluding when “secret love enters, life and joy depart” (235). This statement clearly talks about infidelity and its effect that Hirsch found in this poem.Thus, it is because of beholding a subject like infidelity, this poem’s topicality would never cease, as there will always be the howling storm, the worms’ will venture in the nigh with the aid of it to feast on the innocence of rose with the magic of the dark secret of love it possesses. All the while the society will keep pondering on the questions like “Whether it is the innocence or the indulgence of the rose that allows the worm to fulfill its desire?” or “Whether it was a voluntary or involuntary submission? Is the rose really helpless?” The search for the answers of those questions ultimately fetches an inference, which this humble researcher intends to explain in this paper: That “The Sick Rose” is William Blake’s veiled appeal to the women to help curbing infidelity in the society.DiscussionThis poem corroborates the fact that in every creation there remains a slice of the mind of its creator and we would find that slice here through logical deduction from both Blake’s life-experience and the poem.His life experienceWilliam Blake fell in love of history since he was a boy of 14 years, when he started his days of apprenticeship under James Basire of Queen Street, Lincoln’s Inn, who was an engraver to the London Society of Antiquaries. He used to send Blake to Westminster Abbey for practicing drawing and engraving from the relics and other antiquities.(2) It was from the history he had learnt about the social status of the women in earlier times, where there were scores of instances of matriarchal societies, which would consider women as the source of power. It would only be unnatural if he had bypassed this part of the history, and this accentuates the possibility that he had developed a natural respect for women, which even bolstered him to raise his voice against the oppression of the prostitutes, save alone his unflinching faith and love for his wife Catherine till the end of his life. And it is undeniable that the belief in any power creates the urge of utilizing that power to the benefit of individual or collectivity. Blake took the latter route while believing in the power of women. While in doing so, he identified infidelity as a persistent problem of the society, and urged the women power to solve it.The contents of the poemThe poem establishes certain facts which none of the critics would deny. These facts are:1. That ‘Rose’ represents female and worm represents male2. ‘Howling storm’ facilitates the movement of worm3. ‘Worm’ comes to the rose4. Rose either involuntarily or voluntarily submits to the wishes of worm5. That involves a ‘crimson joy’6. All hastens the process of decay7. The poem is addressed to rose8. It cautions the rose about worm;From this, we can arrive at certain logical derivatives:1. Societal situation generates lust in human mind2. That fuels the thought to fulfill it by ‘any means’3. This steers them to infidelity4. Men are more mobile in the society5. They come to women6. That denotes the high degree of lust in men or7. They are less equipped to control that urge8. Women also derive pleasure from this event.9. Yet women possess greater power to control their lust10. Blake wanted to see infidelity in the society is checked.11. So he appealed to women (rose) to help curbing infidelity.This didactic mould leaves no space for any idea that denies the fact that Blake, with his desire to see a better society rising to the heights of joyful living, wanted to clear one persistent hurdle before it, and it was/is infidelity.;ConclusionIt was Blake’s strong urge to check infidelity from the society that generated this poem from him, who otherwise was engaged to work on the ‘vision’ that he claimed he had possessed at the age of ten. However, it was that ‘vision’ in him prompted to issue this appeal to the subject of the society that it considered suitable. It was his vision that considered the ‘night’ as the moment of ignorance; the ‘dark secrets of love’ is our animal instinct of lust, and ‘worm’ as the dormant notion to venture through the path of ‘dark love’, i.e., infidelity. This is why the topic, infidelity, dominates the proceedings of this poem.