Lesson #108: Why Reading Classic Poetry is Important: Blake’s ‘The Sick Rose’


Sharing a short poem that I memorised in my childhood:

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.

– William Blake, ‘The Sick Rose’ (1794)

Have you ever wished to read a poem, novel, or any book that interested you but were discouraged by how obscure or difficult its language was?

Perhaps the poem above, which was written at the end of the 18th century, might remind you of that feeling.

It consists of words like ‘thou’ and ‘thy’, along with adjectives like ‘crimson’, which are not usually used anymore in daily conversation!

👉TIP: Pay attention to how the words ‘invisible’, ‘sick’, ‘howling’, ‘night’, ‘storm’, ‘dark secret’, and ‘destroy’ are dramatised. Take a look at how closely they are arranged with other words that convey comfort: ‘bed’, ‘rose’, and ‘joy’.

A sense of mystery and tension exists between all these different words.

Do you think it’s beneficial to keep reading literature? Or do we risk metaphorically ‘withering away’ as we try to find something pertinent (relevant) through reading historical or classic books?

I encourage you not to miss the chance to read widely while you study English!

You CAN learn a lot by reading older literary works, even if you do need some teacher’s guidance along part of the way.

Here are some reasons why:

# You will learn a vocabulary that is of the highest quality.

# You will gain competence in comprehending all kinds of advanced texts.

# You will become knowledgeable about the cultural mindsets and thought patterns that influence English language expressions.

# Your subconscious ability to think, read, and write in English will improve in general.

Don’t worry if you don’t fully understand or enjoy English literature yet.

With persistence, you will come to relish many literary texts.

And I am certain that I will be happy to assist you in comprehending and gaining as much knowledge as possible from the process!

by J. E. Gibbons

English language tutor and researcher at 'Learn English Through Literature' (2024)