William Blake's "The Sick Rose"

Categories: William Blake

By analyzing more information from different authors, I was able to draw a greater amount contrast from the authors. I had a better feel for what they were trying to convey when they wrote their critical essays in their books. Whatever the case, it was easier to judge "The Sick Rose" by having more sources to reflect upon. Michael Riffaterre centers his analysis of "The Sick Rose" in "The Self-sufficient Text" by "using internal evidence only [to analyze the poem] and to determine to what extent the literary text is self-sufficient.

It seems to [Riffaterre] that a proper reading entails no more than a knowledge of the language".

Psychological, philosophical, and genetic interpretations by Riffaterre

Riffaterre identifies psychological, philosophical, and genetic interpretations (connected to "mythological tradition") as "aiming outwards." These approaches find the meaning of the text in the relationship of its images to other texts". Riffaterre argues for a more internal reading of the poems. Riffaterre emphasizes the importance of the relationships between words as opposed to their "corresponding realities".

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For example, he states that the "flower or the fruit is a variant of the worm's dwelling constructed through destruction. Thus, as a word, worm is meaningful only in the context of flower, and flower only in the context of worm".

After Riffaterre's reading and interpretation of the poem, he concludes that "The Sick Rose" is composed of "polarized polarities" which convey the central object of the poem, the actual phrase, "the sick rose" . He asserts that "because the text provides all the elements necessary to our identifying these verbal artifacts, we do not have to resort to traditions or symbols found outside the text".

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Thus, "The Sick Rose" is a self-sufficient text. Hazard Adams takes a different approach to reading "The Sick Rose" than most critics by cautioning the reader that often one "overlook[s] the fact that a literary image primarily imitates its previous usages and secondarily what it denotes in the outer world or in the realm of ideas".

Analysis of Adams

Adams begins his analysis with examining the rose, and by reminding the reader that in a "literary world where the rose is seen archetypally, all things have human form". Thus he allows for the rose to be able to become part of the speaker. He carries his idea one step further by suggesting that the speaker always "address[es] some aspect of himself" when speaking to an object. Adams also claims this same identification with the worm as with the rose. He further warns against reading the poem as a simple allegory of sexual seduction; Blake considered that "allegory can contain 'some vision'". Thus, it seems that there is more to the poem than just a surface level reading. Adams concludes by stating that when reading Blake's poems, the reader should consider "minute particulars," "perspective, to related images in Blake's other works, and to symbolic conventions in literature".

John Holloway and his analysis

John Holloway also approaches an analysis of "The Sick Rose by warning the reader against unnecessarily complicating the poems by not beginning with the simple language of the text and its images. He claims that "the language of the poem does its work by being somehow transparent; and the subject gains pregnancy of meaning . . . because of how it stands in a revelatory position . . . seen across the whole spectrum of our existence".

He explains that "The Sick Rose" is a popular poem because of the simple tension between the beautiful rose and the "secret, pallid . . . repulsive" worm. Holloway also argues that "The Sick Rose" is a retort to poems by Bunyan and Watts. Blake seems to identify religion as an "enemy to life" (if the worm is read to symbolize religion and the rose as life), unlike the poems of Bunyan and Watts that advocate "virtue not pleasure".

Feminine critique method of Elizabeth Langland

In 1987, Elizabeth Langland "[wed] feminist and formal-thematic methodologies to analyze Blake's 'The Sick Rose'" in "Blake's Feminist Revision of Literary Tradition in 'The Sick Rose'." In her consideration of the "critical tradition" as a tool of study, Langland reviews the interpretations of other critics such as Hirsch and Bloom.

Based on the feminine critique method, Langland suggests a reading in the critical tradition may reveal "the suspicion and possible hostility . . . toward a certain kind of woman". Her investigation then focuses on the speakers in the poem, and from a feminist perspective, she claims that the poem is read "in the context of a patriarchal speaker". This reveals the way in which expectations affect a reading and assumptions about the text.

Langland examines "the ways language, syntax, . . . and illuminations work to establish new readings". Langland also includes discussions on the revisions of the poems and how they affect the poem as well as the reader's response/interpretation generally. In general "The Sick Rose" criticisms from these four authors are favorable and just for each of their own view points. "The Sick Rose" represents each and every one of their ideas in their own way. William Blake surely has put forth an excellent piece of poetry for all ages and generations to enjoy.


  1. Adams, Hazard. William Blake. Seattle: U of Washington P, 1963.
  2. Riffaterre, Michael. "The Self-sufficient text." Diacritics 3.3 (1973): 39-45.
  3. Holloway, John. Blake: The Lyric Poetry. London: Arnold, 1968.
  4. Langland, Elizabeth. "Blake's Feminist Revision of Literary Tradition in 'The Sick Rose'." In Critical Paths. Ed.
  5. Dan Miller, Mark Bracher, and Donald Ault. Durham: Duke UP, 1987. 225-43.
Updated: Apr 19, 2023
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William Blake's "The Sick Rose". (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/william-blakes-the-sick-rose-new-essay

William Blake's "The Sick Rose" essay
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