Ah! Sun-Flower: by William Blake - Summary and Analysis

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Ah Sunflower

Ah Sunflower, weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the sun;
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveller’s 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 Sunflower wishes to go!

Summary and Analysis


       The sunflower represents man, bound to earth, but pining for immortality or eternity. The face of the sunflower follows the course of the sun in the hope of reaching a land where the frustration of impulses of love, which youths and maidens suffer in this world, will no longer exist. It is worth recalling that America - in the West - was, for Blake as for many Romantics, a symbol of liberty, of promise fulfilled.

The sunflower seems to be tired of its existence, perhaps because it finds this world too restrictive.
Ah! Sunflower


      'Ah, The Sunflower!' is an expressively powerful poem with suggestive symbolism and leaving a lasting impact on the mind of the reader. The sunflower seems to be tired of its existence, perhaps because it finds this world too restrictive. The sunflower seeks that golden world, that land of liberty which is the destination of the traveller. The sunflower, symbolic of man, is itself the traveller. The sunflower seeks the golden world where the young man and the virgin also wish to go. For the time being, the young man and the virgin appear to be dead and buried in their graves. They die because of the supression of their Love, But they still seck the golden world of freedom which the sunflower also seeks. All the three - the sunflower. the young man and the virgin - are travellers in that sense. As a critic maintains: "The sunflower repeats the craving of youth and sighs for its satisfaction in eternity, where the sun, the traveller of time, ends his journey.

Complex Thought Compressed:

      The poem has been analysed closely by various critics on Blake. C.M. Bowra says: "This (the poem) raises questions similar to those raised by 'The Sick Rose'. Again a complex thought is distilled into two verses and again what matters is the imaginative presentation which transports us in intense, excited delight." Here Blake's theme is not quite so simple as The Sick Rose. He has transposed into this song his central ideas and feelings about all young men and young women who are robbed of their full humanity because they are starved of love. Because of this, the youth pines away with desire and the pale virgin is shrouded in snow. It is the pathos of their earth-bound state that the song catches and makes significant through Blake's deep compassion. The central spring of the poem is the image of the sunflower. The flower which turns its head to follow the sun's course and is yet rooted in the earth is Blake's symbol for all men and women whose lives are dominated and spoiled by a longing which they can never hope to satisfy, and who are held down to the earth despite their desire for release into some brighter freer sphere. In this poem Blake expresses an idea which means a great deal to him, but he does not explain or elaborate it. He assumes that his poem will do its work by itself, and his reward is that 'Ah, Sunflower!' belongs to that very rare and small class of poems in which inspiration carries words to a final enchantment.

The Source of the Image:

      It has been suggested that Blake accepted the image of Sunflower from Thomas Taylor's translations. We can also come across Platonic and Neo-Platonic texts according to which "the sunflower, as far as it is able, moves in a circular dance towards the sun." lt can also be Ovid's Metamorphoses from which the poet has chosen the image.

Aspiration for Eternity:

      According to another interpretation, the sunflower lives on earth that is dominated by time. Therefore the sunflower lives as a slave to time and wants to attain immortality. That is why it looks at the sun who is supposedly living in eternity. The sun goes step by step and this is repeated every day. The irony lies in the point that it is the sun itself that withers the flower and dooms it to death. Now, after its fall, the flower takes its other cycle of life and completes it in a few days again. In this way both the sun (with his daily movement) and the sunflower (with its cyclic movement) aspire to attain eternity. The 'Sweet golden clime' is the legendary Golden Age that comes when this course of Sun, moon, earth and all the universe is completed.

      The word 'pine away' carries significance because it may also refer to the pining away of Narcissus of Ovid's Metamorphoses. On seeing his own reflection in water, Narcissus falls in love with it and pines away for the unattainable love. Later he is transformed into a flower of melancholy after his own name. Thus the youth (described in the poem Ah Sunflower') who pines away with desire is not only the classical Narcissus acquiring some kind of celestial, heavenly dwelling place, but also the Narcissus flower arising from the grave of mother earth.

      Similarly, "Pale Virgin shrouded in snow" may remind us of Proserpine whom Pluto, King of Hades abducted and took to his kingdom. Her mother Cares, in her search for Proserpine comes to Hades and puts her claim for her daughter. The pale virgin of our poem can be Proserpine who stands for the seed planted in the earth in which it remains dormant during the months of winter. In spring it sprouts as a new plant, lasts until autumn and then withers off. Again the very process is repeated. Therefore it is to be emphasized that the groundwork of the poem is reinforced by Ovidian legends.

Optimistic and Pessimistic Elements:

      We can read both optimistic and pessimistic elements into the poem 'Ah. Sunflower'. An optimistic outlook is proved when we apply the stress on the consistency of aspiration for immortality and a world of perfection. A hue of pessimism enters when we stress on the withering of the Sunflower (with the life cycle). its incapability of achieving eternity, its Narcissistic pining away of time in melancholy.

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