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The Color Red

Symbol Analysis

The poem is called "The Sick Rose," and we often associate the color red with roses, as in the well-known rhyme "roses are red, violets are blue." In addition to the rose described in the first line, the speaker also refers to a "bed of crimson joy" in line 6. The color is associated with sickness because the rose is sick, but it is also associated with happiness or "joy." The poem suggests, if only obliquely, that "red" can symbolize different, even opposing, things.

  • Line 1: The speaker addresses the rose, which we assume is red. The way in which the speaker addresses the rose—"O rose"—is called an apostrophe.
  • Line 6: The rose has a "bed of crimson joy." "Bed" could refer to the garden plot in which the rose resides or even to its petals, which might function as a bed for various insects. If it refers to the ground, it could be literally red or it could just mean an intense kind of joy associated with the bed. Describing a feeling (joy) in terms of a color is an example of synesthesia, a type of figurative language in which different sensory experiences are mixed, as in "hot pink."

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