Study Guide

The Sick Rose Quotes

By William Blake

  • Mortality

    O rose thou art sick (1)

    Sickness isn't always associated with death, but the ominous tone of the poem coupled with the fact that nearly half of it (4-8) is concerned with violence, death, and maybe even rape suggests that "sick" means "sick and about to die." The poem even implies that the sickness is some kind of perverted pregnancy brought about by the worm's "dark secret love."

    Has found out they bed
    Of crimson joy (5-6)

    Although they are not ostensibly about death, there is something ominous about the tone of these lines; it is as if the rose is hiding something important which the worm has just discovered and plans on stealing. Since the rose gets destroyed by the end of the poem, it's hard not to read this moment of penetration as a foreshadowing of death.

    And his dark secret love
    Does thy life destroy (7-8)

    The poem establishes a connection between death ("life destroy") and "dark secret love." "Love" only leads to death when it is "dark and secret," so perhaps there is a kind of love that isn't "dark" or "secret" and doesn't lead to death.

  • Violence

    O rose thou art sick (1)

    While these lines aren't ostensibly about violence, it's hard to read the poem and not think that the rose's sickness is somehow a result of the worm's act of destruction. One gets the sense that the worm's "dark secret love" infects the rose and somehow destroys it, almost as if the rose were pregnant with a destructive disease.

    Has found out they bed
    Of crimson joy (5-6)

    Again, this quote isn't overtly about violence, but the sexual undertones of the poem make it difficult not see some kind of violence at work in these lines; sure the worm has only "found out" the rose's bed, but perhaps that is merely a euphemistic cover-up for something more aggressive.

    And his dark secret love
    Does thy life destroy (7-8)

    Can destruction be anything but violent? The rose doesn't merely die of an infection; the worm is an active agent of the destruction. The phrase "dark secret love" sounds like some kind of violent sexual act, one that has destructive consequences.

  • Love

    O rose thou art sick (1)

    Roses are often symbols of love, but in this poem our symbol is feeling a little under the weather. It's almost as if love is sick as well; this makes sense when we consider that later in the poem, love is "dark and secret" and performs an act of destruction.

    Has found out they bed
    Of crimson joy (5-6)

    These lines describe something that is a "joy" to the rose, but we're not really sure what it is. The phrase "crimson joy" reminds us of intense passion—maybe love, seeing as how we've been talking about roses. The fact that the worm discovers it suggests something about tarnishing or corrupting what are supposed to be good things, like love.

    And his dark secret love
    Does thy life destroy (7-8)

    The worm's love is "dark and secret"; there is something dangerous about it. What does it mean for love to be "dark" anyway, or secret for that matter? Whatever is "dark" and "secret," even if it's love, is here equated with destruction.

  • Sex

    O rose thou art sick (1)

    The poem starts out with the rose already sick, but something tells us that it gets infected because of the worm's "dark secret love." That's what kills it anyway, and surely sickness kills plants as well.

    Has found out thy bed
    Of crimson joy (5-6)

    A bed? Crimson joy? Sounds a lot like something sexual, doesn't it? But something about these lines screams forced entry, even rape.

    And his dark secret love
    Does thy life destroy (7-8)

    "Dark secret love" can be read as a sexual reference. We often associate darkness and secrecy with physical intimacy, but the darkness here is strangely unromantic. It's associated with the destruction of the rose. The poem doesn't say sex is bad, but rather that it's bad if it's done secretly in the dark. Does that mean sex should be public? Not necessarily, but "dark" and "secret" isn't the answer either.