Saturday, November 17, 2007

Literary Interlude: The Sick Rose

Years ago, I read a really, really ponderous biography of William Blake. It was only natural then that when I visited London, I would want to see his work. Alas, that wing of the British Museum was under construction. But there was more of his work at the Tate. So dragging one of my best friends in the world, I set off to see Blake's paintings

Turns out the many of Blake's most lavish paintings, the ones routinely used in illustrations, are like 11 by 14 and done on paper. I was saddened when I remembered: Blake had been poor his whole life. In fact, he cobbled together a living doing work for some of the successful artists of his time, artists we've long forgotten. Isn't that a kick? I'm sure I don't need to talk about his mysticism, his eccentricities: sitting nude in the garden; speaking to the saints that visited him, his dead brother. At the end of his life, he came to see his lack of worldly success as a blessing.

I love today's poem (Blake's illustration above) for its sensuousness, its layers of meaning. Such a little thing, too.
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.


Anonymous said...

The genius of the poet is achieved in getting the reader to discover 'layers of meaning'. My always over-analytical mind sees the clash of opposites: worm vs rose, man vs woman, death vs life, evil vs good, devil vs mankind, experience vs innocence, perversion vs virtue, and so it continues. Wonder if 'invisible' and 'howling' were used deliberately to describe the chaos and confusion within the mind of a depressed Blake. Troubling thing about the poem is......the 'bad guys' win.
By the way, I remember that trip to the Tate very well. Stormy weather, as I recall.
Your Friend.

rsnlk said...

Interesting, although I don't see it as a clash. It seems sneakier, maybe seduction, insinuation. In this context "invisible" goes along with the "dark secret love." Does it signify something illicit, or the twisted nature of the worm's affection?

je me souviens.