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Towards Corruption and Decay

One of the beauties of poetry is that each poem is open to individual interpretation. Many times, these interpretations lead to the poem’s demonstrating a basic inherent human condition. Humanity is characterized by imperfection. This imperfection progresses through recognizable stages to the ultimate form of corruption. It begins with the intrinsic nature of deterioration, progresses through the individual struggle with entropy, or laziness, and culminates in the ultimate corruption of the potential of the body and mind.

The poems “A Sick Rose” by William Blake, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by William Wordsworth and “We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks all demonstrate that despite the best of intentions, all human beings are corruptible. These three poems can be interpreted as observations of the human propensity to be corruptible. “In A Sick Rose,” the reader is confronted with the image of the rose as being destroyed by an invisible worm. It can be deduced that the worm is destroying the rose from inside, which at first begins to decay with no visible symptoms on the outside.

Later, when the outside of the rose seems to be deteriorating, no apparent reason can be discerned. Blake’s use of invisible to describe the worm that nobody perceives because it arrives at night during a storm shows that the worm’s presence is known only to the rose. If the worm symbolizes the innately human corruptible propensity, Blake’s poem clearly illuminates how humans cultivate their own weakness and destroy their own lives.

The poem begins with the rose, or the human spirit, as already sick because the worm, or the decay in the spirit, has already found its way to the bed of crimson joy, or the heart of the spirit. The decay starts at night in the howling of the storm when trials and moments of hardship test the human spirit. If the human spirit gives in and does not stand its ground, inevitably it begins to morally decay. If this decay continues without correction or with only the justification of the human mind, then the corruption takes over, and, as evidenced in the line,

“his dark secret love/ Does thy life destroy” destroys us. In the same way, the invisible worm stands for anything that corrupts the human spirit – an addiction, a hurt or pain that a person cannot let go of, temptation – and see that when the human spirit gives in to the storms and dark nights of trying times, ultimately the worms and sins will find their way into the very hearts and souls of individuals. On the outside one could still maintain a beautiful image like that of the rose, but it will not stop the decay that has started from within, slowly destroying and killing him.

Indeed, the poem can even be read as the persona informing the rose that it is sick as though it did not know, or it was not aware of its own condition. It might have believed that it was still as beautiful as it was, just as humans often believe that they are justified in perpetuating sinful actions. In Wordsworth poem, the persona juxtaposes himself as a cloud wandering lonely, when he saw the daffodils endowed with human features: “…a crowd/ a host, of golden daffodils; fluttering and dancing in the breeze; tossing their heads in sprightly dance”

while the persona, a human, thought himself of as a cloud/ that floats on high o’er vales and hills. The persona here acts passively – he sees himself as a cloud, a cloud that has no direction or will of its own as it is taken by the wind wherever it goes. This image shows the human propensity to be passive, or in a state of entropy or laziness, another kind of human corruption. It is an excuse to fail to aspire for excellence, to realize the most of human potential. Humans can weave dreams, but stop there.

They lie back and float like clouds, or go with the flow and let the tide take them. But then, while in this passive state, he comes across daffodils, flowers that are so lively that they inspire him. The speaker even sees them continuously as “stars that shine/ and twinkle on the milky way” The use of stars as metaphors suggest that somehow the persona is inspired by the daffodils to act and shake off his impassivity, to reach for his dreams, as stars connote dreams that are so far out of reach.

It could be that the persona is feeling too lazy to reach for his dreams because he is unmotivated, feeling that he will never be able to achieve anything if it were the stars he was reaching for. Yet here, the persona sees a host of golden daffodils, which is within reach if he wanted to take them. And so, whenever he feels the call of passivity or laziness, he calls upon his mind the image of the daffodils, and he is once again inspired as in the concluding stanza:

“For oft, when on my couch I lie In vacant or in pensive mood They flash upon that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude; And then my heart with pleasure fills And dances with the daffodils. Here we see the persona as calling upon the image of the daffodils to see him through when he finds himself passive and lacking motivation to reach for his dreams. In “We Real Cool,” the readers are confronted with the image of the pool players as kids who have wasted their youth and potential.

The poem is very compact, and every word describes the pool players’ state: they are uneducated (we left school), they stay out and spend their time hanging out playing and drinking (we lurk late/ we strike straight/ we sing sin/ we thin gin/ we jazz June) ultimately ending predictably: a premature death (we die soon). In this poem the boys represent the extreme form of human corruption, not only the physical corruption of the human vessel, the body, but the mental corruption of wasting the human potential as evidenced by the lack of desire to improve oneself or to develop one’s dreams.

Before the physical death, these people have died slowly, losing the most important things to them one by one, the things that make them human – their reason, their possibility and potential. This poem shows that this kind of corruption of the human spirit ends in death, a premature one at that, since they have not done anything significant to claim that they have lived worthy lives. Indeed, it seems that they have not lived at all.

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