Three Poems by William Blake

PrettyRoseTree

As I continue to work my way through the Songs of Experience, the next one is more of a set, three poems that share the same illuminated page and also share a theme of flowers.

MY PRETTY ROSE-TREE

A flower was offered to me,
Such a flower as May never bore;
But I said I’ve a Pretty Rose-tree,
And I passed the sweet flower o’er.

Then I went to my Pretty Rose-tree,
To tend her by day and by night;
But my Rose turned away with jealousy,
And her thorns were my only delight.

AH! SUN-FLOWER

Ah Sun-flower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun:
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the travellers journey is done.

Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow:
Arise from their graves and aspire,
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.

THE LILLY

The modest Rose puts forth a thorn,
The humble Sheep a threatening horn:
While the Lilly white shall in Love delight,
Nor a thorn nor a threat stain her beauty bright.

There is a lot here to consider. The first question is: Why three poems? After reading through them a couple times, I concluded that the three flowers/poems represent the three stages of a woman’s life: birth, adulthood, and death. This would also be symbolic of the triple goddess: maid, mother, and crone.

In the first poem, the Rose-tree is the mother who gives birth to the baby girl. The red color of the rose symbolizes the blood associated with childbirth. The mother becomes jealous of her daughter, possibly because she mourns the loss of her beauty which she sees reflected in the daughter’s visage, or it could be the attention which the father pays to the young girl. Regardless, the mother is not joyous over the birth of her daughter.

The Sun-flower symbolizes the girl becoming a woman. She has reached her full height and now aspires to reach the sun (or son). She is ready to become a mother herself and renew the cycle.

Lastly, the Lilly is the symbol of death and mourning, hence they are frequently used in funeral wreaths. The whiteness represents the pallor of the skin, yet also hints at a purification of the soul as it transitions to the next realm.

While all this makes sense, there was something about this poem that still bothered me and as I thought about it some more, I figured out what it was. In the first poem, I realized that roses do not grow on trees. The image was all wrong. So why would Blake, skilled poet that he was, use such a poor image, unless he was hinting at something else. That is when an alternate interpretation came to me.

I pictured the Rose-tree as symbolic of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This completely changed my view of the poems. The flower that was originally offered was the promise of life in the Garden of Eden, but humanity instead turned to the Tree of Knowledge and as a result, became subjected to the thorns of life (the curse of experience). Humanity then attempted to reach back to God and did so through Christ, the Sun-flower (or Son-flower). This makes the lines “Arise from their graves and aspire, /Where my Sun-flower wishes to go” make more sense. Finally, the whiteness and purity of the Lilly represents the return to the Edenic state. No more will “a thorn nor a threat stain her beauty bright” as humanity is returned to the place of divine being.

Even now, I feel that there is more to this triad of poems than I am seeing. But alas, the day is moving on and as much as I would love to sit all day and contemplate this, I must attend to other things. If you see anything else hidden in these poems, please share them in a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Have a beautiful day and keep reading!

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “Three Poems by William Blake

  1. Interesting interpretation, Jeff. I would never think of that – so chapeau bas! I must say I like the first two best: the first one with its burning sting of jealousy, the second one with the longing for death present in every being, even the pale Virgin.

    • Yeah, I struggled with these. They were not easy. As I said, I read them a few times in an attempt to decrypt them. I may be off base, but I tried. The thing with great art, it is open for interpretation.

      Hope you have a great weekend! Talk to you soon.

      Jeff

  2. Blake lived and experienced an altered reality. I think you need to read all of him, enter that world yourself, in order to fully appreciate him. Some of his poems are deceptively simple (the ones often quoted), but most are obscure and involve his own referents and peculiar use of symbols.

    • Hi Margaret! You are absolutely correct. In college, my focus of study was the English Romantic Writers, so I read a lot of Blake. It’s true what you say about his constructed mythology, although not until later when he wrote stuff like Daughters of Albion, Thel, Urizen, etc. at some point I plan to move to those poems on the blog, but figured I’d start “simpler” with innocence and experience.

      I was thinking after innocence and experience that I should do Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Do you agree?

      • Good Lord, I have no idea. Blake entrances me, mystifies me, leads me by the nose. I love his engravings AND his ravings, but I don’t pretend to understand it all. He had his own private, kind of off kilter mythology, which he was convinced was Christian, and seems to be so some of the time, but whoa buddy ,he careens of the road a lot of the time into his own private forests and jungles. I can’t follow him there. Fascinating poet, a brave heart true to his vision. Have at it, Jeff! Remove the scales from my eyes 😉

      • LOL – I will certainly give it my best. Have a wonderful weekend and thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Cheers!

  3. You sometimes see a rose grafted onto a tree-looking stock, the shape something like a weeping cherry, but I have no idea of that’s what Blake had in mind. The Tree of Life/Tree of Knowledge interpretation is certainly thought provoking. And some older rose bushes are quite large. I think I’ve seen the phrase “rose tree” elsewhere, but of course have no idea where that was!

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Hey Nancy! Hope you are well. Thanks for your comment. It doesn’t surprise me that you have heard the phrase Rose Tree before; You are the expert on Saints and Trees. If you recall where you heard the phrase, please let me know. It may open up a new interpretation of these poems.

      If I don’t speak with you, I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!!

      Jeff

  4. Great post dear Jeff… I always enjoy your poetry choices.. ⭐
    Thanks for sharing!, Cheers, Aquileana 😀

  5. Great poet ,l studied Blake’ poems in college. Gibran Khalil Gibran was his faithful student .Best regards.Jalal

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