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Sex and Love

Symbol Analysis

We've all heard the expression "sex and love aren't the same thing." In this poem, though, they sort of are the same thing. The love in this poem is "dark and secret" (7) and is associated with a destructive or violent act of sexual intercourse, bordering on but not quite synonymous with rape. The poem refuses to give us an image or symbol of love that isn't complicated by something more sinister. The rose, an almost universal symbol of love, is sick, and the worm's "love" is as far from a Valentine's Day card as one could get.

  • Line 1: The speaker addresses the rose with phrase "O rose thou art sick"; this is called an apostrophe. The rose here could be a metaphor for love or passion; our ideas about which are "sick."
  • Lines 5-6: The worm manages to worm his way into the rose's bed, which suggests some kind of sexual act.
  • Lines 7-8: The worm's "dark secret love" kills the rose; a worm doesn't literally possess any "love," so this is an example of personification, where human characteristics or emotions (love) are attributed to non-human things (worm).

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