Arctic Tern

  Chris Hawkes

Student AS Work:
 A comparison of Blake's "Sick Rose" and "The Blossom" with teacher's comments.

Compare "The Sick Rose" and "The Blossom".

‘The Blossom’ and ‘The Sick Rose’ by William Blake are arguably both about love. However, they represent two contrasting types of love. In ‘The Blossom’ Blake portrays the comforting love of a parent, while in ‘The Sick Rose’ he demonstrates a ‘dark secret love’ which is so destructive that it compromises life itself. I agree: but note that you have jumped straight into theme and interpretation without first considering the evidence for your AO4. Still, I’m sure you will “show your working” as the essay progresses: if so then that’s fine.

The two different types of flowers are effective because they both symbolise the purity of nature. Blossom is often considered to represent spring and new life, suggesting an idea of youth which we often pair with innocence; taken from ‘Songs of Innocence’, ‘The Blossom’ clearly does represent this simple, childlike vision of our world. Good. Perhaps more evidence to back this point up? The rose, on the other hand, often stands for love, purity and beauty, and so the corruption of this flower within the poem is even more shocking to the reader. Furthermore, the rose is often used as an English symbol, with an “English rose” representing a pure, innocent, young woman; the destruction of the ‘rose’ by the ‘dark secret love’ is therefore even more effective because it could be seen to represent the Fall of Man, and the introduction of sin into the world, creating the postlapsarian setting in which many of Blake’s ‘Songs of Experience’ take place. While in the arguably prelapsarian surroundings of ‘The Blossom’ it is implied that although the robin is ‘sobbing’, it can be comforted, in ‘The Sick Rose’ the advent of experience and sin has made the previously untainted rose ‘sick’ and there appears to be no cure. Excellent AO3 and AO4 analysis.

Similarly, in ‘The Sick Rose’, Blake uses complex sexual imagery, possibly to enhance the theme of the Fall of Man. The ‘bed / Of crimson joy’ may refer to the physical aspect of the love, and the word ‘joy’ suggests that this provides great pleasure. However, in the postlapsarian setting this pleasure is short-lived as it has made the rose ‘sick’ and therefore ‘crimson’, in addition to representing the colour of the rose, could possibly be interpreted to represent blood. This is effective because it reminds the audience of the deadly nature of this ‘secret love’. Blake also perhaps portrays the passion through the ‘howling storm’, but again this demonstrates the immensely powerful and destructive force of the love, as we automatically associate this image with fear and unlimited damage. Absolutely: an effective use of AO4 lexis. Note that the “postlapsarian” aspect here encountered is destroying – perverting – something that should be joyful, hence arguably innocent.

In ‘The Blossom’, however, I feel that Blake has used simpler, more positive lexis to reflect the simpler, unconditional love of the parent. Words such as ‘happy’, ‘cradle’ and ‘pretty’ represent a childlike vision of the world, in which the parent is able to solve any problem, and therefore although the robin is ‘sobbing’, it is likely to concern something trivial and so will be resolved, in contrast to ‘The Sick Rose’, where the pollution and destruction cannot be dispelled. In addition, Blake almost certainly uses the phrase ‘near my bosom’ to refer to the mother, implying that the ‘happy blossom’ is the parent of both the ‘merry sparrow’ and the ‘pretty robin’; by including plants within the unification of the natural world, we can possibly identify the ‘blossom’ as “mother nature”, who supposedly nurtures all around her, just as Blake suggests that the ‘blossom’ is comforting the ‘sobbing’ ‘robin’. Yes, possibly. However, it seems more likely to me that the symbolic nature of the poem is paramount here. I find this effective because it infers that as well as epitomising a parent, the blossom also represents a deeper, immortal force which surrounds all our relationships and this once again corresponds with the prelapsarian world when God was believed to have nurtured his children, Adam and Eve. Yes. In Eden, Nature was one: “The lion lies down with the lamb”.

The simple, formulaic order of the stanzas in ‘The Blossom’ may also represent this simpler view of the world. The regularity of the form is comforting to the audience, just as the unconditional love comforts the child, and the order which Blake has created, can be seen to reiterate the concept of an ordered world in which all problems can be resolved. This simplicity is augmented by the use of repetition, such as ‘ merry, merry sparrow’ or ‘pretty, pretty robin’ which correspond with the limited vocabulary of a child, and their tendency to repeat important ideas for emphasis; in my opinion, this is particularly effective because, as well as invoking the now familiar childlike vision of the world, it reminds the reader of the innocent, trusting fascination with nature, often displayed by young children, reminding us once again of the miraculous wonders of the Garden of Eden. Yes: the simple innocence of Nursery Rhyme?

‘The Sick Rose’ also appears to have a reasonably ordered form, with a regular rhyme scheme but this is ironic rather than comforting, as the chaotic nature of the content expels any suggestion of harmony. This possibly relates to the common misconception that love is a purely positive force, while it is obvious within the poem that it can actually be extremely destructive. However, the use of enjambment on several lines may represent disruption within the apparent order, implying a conflict between the order of the form and the disorder of the content, perhaps reflecting the conflict between innocence and experience, described by Blake as “the two contrary states of the human soul”. Parts of the poem are also iambic, and this is effective because it provides the illusion of speech, making the poem more personal and direct, and so involving the reader; this is particularly disturbing as it forces us to examine the impact which relationships have upon our own lives and to re-evaluate the world in which we live.

It could also be argued that the poems provide a contrast between passive and active love. In ‘The Blossom’, the parent figure appears to have a passive role, and simply ‘sees’ and ‘hears’ the birds. However, it is implied that the parent is not actually required to do anything other than to listen and observe, and that they provide comfort simply by their presence. In ‘The Sick Rose’, on the other hand, the relationship between the ‘rose’ and the ‘worm’ is clearly an active one and one that leads to destruction. This is interesting because in another work by Blake, ‘The Marriage between Heaven and Hell’, he describes evil as ‘the active springing from Energy’, in contrast to good which is ‘the passive that obeys Reason’. Good research: but care is needed here. In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Blake makes it clear that “good” and “evil” are labels wrongly applied to these qualities: but in “The Sick Rose” we do not have this inversion (largely, I suspect, because Blake is showing us result rather than merely labelling.) However, he felt that contraries were necessary for progression and so this suggests that the evil and destructive force of the ‘worm’ may not be quite so negative as it at first appeared. In reference to the description of a young woman as an “English rose”, as mentioned earlier, I feel that maybe Blake is suggesting that with experience, the rose within her has been destroyed as she enters the world of sin, corresponding once again to the Fall of Man, but this does not necessarily lead to her death, but rather the beginning of another stage in her life. Hmm! Certainly an AO4; however, the lexis does not convince me that this view is really tenable. “Joy” clearly has sexual connotations, so this would suggest that sex can be part of the Innocence spectrum: the Experiential aspect is the destruction of that joy. Still, well played!

Therefore, in conclusion, I can see that Blake has effectively portrayed two contrary types of love, and yet two which are present everyday in the world in which we live. By investigating both destructive and comforting forms of love, it is possible that Blake wished for us to investigate further our relationships, as well as portraying through extended metaphors the Fall of Man and its relevance to us.

     Joanne Box

This is an excellent response that clearly fulfils the AO3 and AO4 criteria for grade A. Sustained and focused analysis coupled with a sensitive response to lexis, tone and theme.

You could perhaps also consider the role of the observer/narrator.

Well done, Jo.

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