The Sick Rose

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Hand-coloured print, issued c.1826. A copy held by the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge[1]

The Sick Rose is a poem by William Blake. The poem mentions through the symbols of the rose and the worm, how intense experience preys upon unpolluted innocence. The first publication was in 1794, when it was included in his collection titled Songs of Experience as the 39th plate. The incipit of the poem is O Rose thou art sick. Blake composed the page sometime after 1789, and presents it with the illuminated border and illustrations that were typical of his self publications. Most aspects of the original production were undertaken by the author; the composition of the poem and design, engraving, and promotion of the work. The printing was usually done by Blake's wife, Catherine, as well as any colouring not performed by Blake himself.[1]


O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.


Nathan Cervo describes the poem as "One of the most baffling and enigmatic in the English language".[2] The rose and worm have been considered by critics as "figures of humanity",[3] although Michael Riffaterre doubts the direct equivalence of Man as a worm; when Blake makes this comparison in other places, Riffaterre notes, he is explicit about it. Nevertheless, the "lesson of the worm may be applicable to human experience".[3]

The rhyme scheme is ABCB. The scansion is difficult to place, due to a lack of pattern; the stanzas are asymmetrical: the first has syllables of 5,6,5,5, and the second of 5,4,6,5. Punctuation is also irregular: there is no comma [,] after "O Rose", and yet there is a comma [,] after "worm".[4]

The poem was set to music by Benjamin Britten in his 1943 Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, where it forms the movement "Elegy". More recently, British rock band Amplifier set the poem to music on their 2011 album The Octopus.

Verses of the poem also comprise and inspire the 1991 song "Love's Secret Domain" by the band Coil.


  1. ^ a b Blake, William. Songs of Innocence and of Experience, copy AA, Object 39 1826 (The Fitzwilliam Museum) published by The William Blake Archive. Ed. Morris Eaves, Robert N. Essick, and Joseph Viscomi. Accessed: 16 October 2009
  2. ^ Cervo, Nathan (July 1990). "Blake's the Sick Rose". The Explicator. 48 (4): 253–254. doi:10.1080/00144940.1990.9934016.
  3. ^ a b Riffaterre, Michael (1973). "The Self-Sufficient Text". Diacritics. 3 (3): 39–45. doi:10.2307/464526. JSTOR 464526.
  4. ^ Biles, Jeremy (2007). "O Rose, I'm Sick Too: Notes on William Blake's "The Sick Rose"". The Cultural Society.

External links[edit]

Works related to The Sick Rose at Wikisource