“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.”
AG” Does anybody (have) an interpretation for that? There’s a picture. The illustration shows a large bulbous beautiful meaty rose with a worm coming out of it and a little spirit flying out of it. A little spirit flying out, too. A little sprite coming out. I’ve never been able to (figure it out) I’ve never been able to fix an interpretation. I’ve had different interpretations at different times. The rose is obviously life itself, subject to death, so I assume that the “invisible worm/ That flies in the night/ In the howling storm” was death. But how does death, or illness, or whatever, sickness, how does it find out “thy bed/ Of crimson joy”? Death has found out that the living being is dependent on a bed of crimson joy, dependent on flesh-meat-blood-crimson-joy bed, the old bed of skin, and being dependent on that perishing thing. So it may be that the worm is wisdom, in a sense, or consciousness itself, or human consciousness itself, or ultimate human awareness, which, in a sense, casts a shadow on existence because you realize that existence is transitory. So that the wisdom of death “that flies in the night” in experience, in the howling storm of experience, the school of hard knocks, so to speak, through experience, has understood, finally, (and) has found out the secret of your “bed of crimson joy” – that is – (it is) ultimately dependent on death.
Peter Orlovsky: Maybe it’s not that. Maybe the worm is just hungry and wants a good meal.
AG: Well, sure. That would be identical, too. That is a worm that would…
Peter Orlovsky: I mean, no one else wants it. The vultures want it.
Peter Orlovsky: Vultures will take it if you give it… if they’re around.
AG: Uh-huh. “O Rose thou art sick./The invisible vulture,/That flies in the night” could do it too. But I think those, the rose and the worm, are elements of our own awareness, I guess. That’s the way I interpret it. They’re elements of our own consciousness. So the rose would be our living energy and physical beauty and physique – a “bed of crimson joy”. The worm would be that knowing awareness inside of the transitoriness and conditioned nature, the multiple conditioned transitory and empty nature of the rose (multiple, because it breaks down into little atoms and waves, and conditioned, because it’s dependent on sunlight, short life, and manure, or the red petal). Transitory, conditionally, the rose is mutable and disappears. So I figure the invisible worm is our own awareness, finally. Sorrow, subtle awareness of the situation of life. But the rose should be sick? It might be the entire universe. Also, I thought of….
tape ends here, then continues (with Allen quoting from The Illuminated Blake by David V Erdman)
“O Rose thou art sick”, we agree, seeing her crimson globe fallen to the ground, her two rosy buds forlorn – the lower, a woman huddled on a thorny stem as if weeping, with yellow hair hanging down, the upper, a woman lying on thorns, her head buried in her arms, her left leg pulled up but dangling.”
Now, let’s see – A “cankerworm has inched his way to a green leaf to eat it.” At the top. “(A)nother worm shape is added between the next two leaves on that branch. At the bottom another worm, who must have inched his way along the main stem, encountering and ravishing the prostrate sister on his way to the open blossom, extends a curved phallic body out from the flower center and about the waist of the human form of Rose, also yellow-haired.” – (Oh, yeah – See that little human form coming out of the rose mouth?.) – Her “face usually an enigma. On first thought it is her life that the poet or gardener sees being destroyed by the worm – who came “invisible… in the night and ‘storm”, like the worm and storm that Jehovah sent to wither up Jonah’s gourd and remind him of the frailty of mortals.” – (That’s interesting. I didn’t know that reference).
“These caterpillars on leaf and petal remind us of the grief derived from the assumption that life is mortal, against which thorns are no protection.” – (There’s that line, “The caterpillar on the leaf/ Reminds thee of thy Mother’s grief.” You know that line of his?)
The “invisible worm” that flies in the night might be that great snake-worm of revolution, also, coming to break up the illusion or appearance of the bed of crimson joy of mortal life and take it to another, more fierce level. So the rose might be vegetative life, the worm might be the fury of intelligence and change – death – and it might be… well, it’s funny, “Has found out thy bed/Of crimson joy.” But it’s “his dark secret love” that destroys your life. So it’s like the very nature of the worm’s love is he knows a big secret that the rose doesn’t.
(Erdman, again): “What clues may clarify the riddle of woman and worm? The sister flowers may imply the Cupid-Psyche script … the “invisible worm’ being what jealous sisters think Love is really like.” – (That’s a funny one) – “The similarity of the picture to (Book of) Thel , where blossom-borne lovers are obviously enjoying themselves whatever Thel may think, suggests that it might be only the secrecy or the jealousy that caused the flower to fall to the ground.”
Of course, it might be vagina and phallus – “O Vagina thou art sick/The invisible phallus/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” – Which actually would make sense, in the sense that copulation would lead to birth and experience and the wearing away of the vagina from birth so that the pristine freshness of the rose, attracting the worm or phallus, would, in the long run, wear it down. “His dark secret love/Does thy life destroy.” So it might be that, too.