The Sick Rose vs. London: a Poetic Comparison

William Blake was a renowned poet whose works continue to be recognized long after his death. Blake was more than a poet he was also a painter and printmaker. Often his engraving art would act as the accompanying image to his poetry. Throughout his lifetime the British poet wrote several poems. The vast majority of Blake’s work was centered on strong religious themes or human existence itself. However in the works Sick Rose and London neither of these common themes is present. Though the two poems are different in content they both share an underlying darkness, perhaps even a sense of warning of the true cruelty of the world.

In both poems Blake uses strong imagery to convey the evils and corruption of the world. In London he use one increasingly gruesome image after another from the “marks of woe” in the passersby’s faces to blood running down the palace walls, and finally the harlots cursing in the street in order to give the reader a clear mental picture of what he is trying to get across. Similarly in Sick Rose Blake uses highly descriptive phrases, as the “invisible worm “ and “howling storm” . Through this imagery both poems are able to convey an evil force that threatens to destroy life in some form.

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In London it is the internal corruption of the monarchy and church at the time the poem was written threatened to destroy Blake’s once fair London and leave behind nothing but sorrow, death and filth. Just as in The Sick Rose the invisible worm, indicative of some malicious being or force, is slowly destroying the life of the beautiful crimson rose. In addition to imagery both poems, though different in content, share a likeness in genre, structure, and outer form. The two works are both in the lyric genre of poetry.

However, because of London’s story telling nature it is also considered a ballad or a lyrical narrative, a style that William Blake originated and frequently used. While in Sick Rose the poem dwells less on a story with a plot and focuses more on the emotion associated with the subject, making it a true lyric poem. As for the structure of the poems both are built on four line stanzas with the rhyming pattern “ababab”. Often the last “b” line of the rhyme of the poem is what further drives the imagery of despair or corruption.

For example, a stanza from London, “I wander thro’ each charter’d street, Near where the charter’d Thames does flow, And mark in every face I meet Marks of weakness, marks of woe,” (Blake 92) Within this stanza the “b” rhyme “marks of weakness, marks of woe” is the first indication of what the poem is about. The first emotion that Blake expresses within the piece is anguish, tribulation, and trial all through one rhyme. Just as in Sick Rose the “b” line rhyme “In the howling storm” is also an early warning of what is to become of the sick rose.

In addition to the fore mention similarity the two poems also share a similarity when it comes to use of language. Both poems are of course written in Old English, and both break into four line stanzas to stop and make the reader think at a certain point in the poem. Though the two works are similar in structure they do have several differences as well. As mention before London is a lyrical narrative. The poem utilizes the poetic tool of agency to covey Blake’s message. When agency is used within a piece the subject of the poem is focused on a single main agent.

For instance the pronoun “I” is used in nearly every stanza of the poem. This helps the reader to feel the immorality and corruption more intensely because it allows the reader to experience it through the subject’s eyes. Meanwhile in Sick Rose Blake uses a different approach known to Helen Vendler as speech acts. Speech acts are used in pieces in which narration is used. (Vendler 135) Sick Rose is written completely in third person and it is apparent from the first line in which Blake writes “O, rose, thou art sick! (Blake 102) The use of the pronoun thou is a clue that the poem is being told by a third party and makes the reader feel as though they are watching the rose unknowingly be destroyed from a distance. The emotion can be compared to watching a horror film in which the beautiful starlet is about to be killed by the lurking murderer and doesn’t know, while the viewers see what is about to ensue but have to way to caution her. In terms of analysis both poems same message through different avenues. As mentioned earlier the two poems seem to represent somewhat of a cautionary tale of the results of underlying corruption.

It seems as if during this period of Blake’s career he has lost faith in all things pure and only sees deception and the inevitable destruction of all once beautiful things. In The Sick Rose the invisible worm represents something sinister, devious, and malicious that is undetectable to the rose. The despicable unseen worm ultimately leads to the death of the innocent unsuspecting rose. The poem London tells the story of a city that slowly eroding into a wasteland of perversion, disease, death due to the secret demoralization of the church and monarchy.

As mentioned earlier the poem is a lyrical narrative that uses strong imagery to convey the state in which the city is in, as opposed to the more metaphorical approach of The Sick Rose in which Blake employs speech acts and narrative approach to tell the story. Within the poem London Blake shows the destruction through the subjects eyes instead of telling about it from a third party’s view in The Sick Rose. He shows the reader by describing what it is that he sees. He tells of the faces of the people he passes on the street. And mark in every face I meet, Marks of Weakness, marks of woe” (Blake 93) London and The Sick Rose show distinct poetic similarities. The two poems show a similar approach to rhyming pattern using the “ababab” format. They also share a similar theme of corruption. Correspondingly within the two pieces Blake uses language in a similar manner, with four line stanzas in each poem. Furthermore, the two works use strong imagery to get the point across to the reader. But just as the share similarities they also have differences.

The concrete structures of both poems are very different, while London is a lyrical narrative The Sick Rose is not. Another notable difference is the use of agency and speech acts within both pieces. Sick Rose is an ottava rima, eight line lyrical poem and London has many more lines and stanzas. Finally the two poems though they have like and different qualities seem to focus on the same subject matter of dishonesty, vice, and sleaze that is not easily detectable by all but who’s small indications are noticeable to those who take the time to look close enough.

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The Sick Rose vs. London: a Poetic Comparison. (2017, Mar 17). Retrieved from