Criticism Of “the Sick Rose”Criticism of “The Sick Rose”
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” (39). 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” (40). 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” (40). 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” (41). After Riffaterre’s reading and in
terpretation of the poem, he concludes that “The Sick Rose” is composed of
“polarized polarities” (44) which convey the central object of the poem, the
actual phrase, “the sick rose” (44). 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” (44). 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 “overlooks 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” (13). 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”
(14). 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
“addresses 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'”(15). 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” (15-16).
John Hollowly 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” (24). 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 (25). 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” (44).
In 1987, Elizabeth Langland “wed feminist and formal-thematic
methodologies to analyze Blake’s ‘The Sick Rose'” (225) in “Blake’s Feminist
Revision of Literary Tradition in ‘The Sick Rose’.” In her consideration of the
“critical tradition” (228) 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” (231). 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” (231). This reveals the way in which expectations affect
a reading and assumptions about the text. Thirdly, Langland examines “the ways
language, syntax, . . . and illuminations work to establish new readings” (228).
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
Adams, Hazard. William Blake. Seattle: U of Washington P, 1963.
Riffaterre, Michael. “The Self-sufficient text.” Diacritics 3.3 (1973): 39-45.
Holloway, John. Blake: The Lyric Poetry. London: Arnold, 1968.
Langland, Elizabeth. “Blake’s Feminist Revision of Literary Tradition in ‘The
Sick Rose’.” In Critical Paths. Ed. Dan Miller, Mark Bracher, and Donald Ault.
Durham: Duke UP, 1987. 225-43.