Hilda Doolittle

Sea Rose by Hilda Doolittle

‘Sea Rose’ speaks directly about a specific rose, its attributes, and what makes it different than ordinary roses. But, aside from the wonderful imagery, there is a deeper metaphor at work. The “normal” rose that the speaker considers in the last lines of the poem is compared with the more complicated “sea rose”. 

Both of these roses are used to symbolize women. The former, someone who conforms to all of society’s standards on beauty, and the latter someone who steps out of the lane that has been designated as appropriate for them. The “sea rose” is used to represent a woman who does not care for the standards of Doolittle’s contemporary society and is rebelling in her own way.

Sea Rose by Helen Doolittle


Summary of Sea Rose

‘Sea Rose’ by H.D. is a short, interesting poem that depicts a “sea rose”  in comparison to the more traditional “spice roses” found in English gardens. 

In the first lines of this poem, the speaker goes through a vibrant, enjambed description of the sea rose. It is hardened by its environment and therefore does not shine with the beauty of normal roses. Its growth has been stunted by the seawater, its petals are drooping and its leaves are minimal. But, the speaker concludes, this does not make it worthless. In fact, it is far more interesting than a normal “spice rose”. 

You can read the full poem here.


Structure of Sea Rose

Sea Rose’ by H.D. is a four stanza poem that is separated into two sets of four lines, known as quatrains, one set of five lines, known as a sestet, and one final stanza that contains three lines called a tercet. These stanzas do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern, a style of writing known as free verse.

As one of the leading poets of the imagist movement, H.D. used free verse quite often, as did her contemporary Ezra Pound.  The proponents of and participants in imagism were interested in the use of precise imagery and clear language. They also rejected the sentimental themes and flowery language of the Romantic and Georgian poets. 


Literary Devices in Sea Rose 

H.D. makes use of several literary devices in ‘Sea Rose’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, enjambment, and, unsurprisingly, imagery. The latter is one of the most important techniques at work in the poem. Despite its brevity and the very short two and three word lines, this poem is packed full of clear and vibrant images. 

Imagery refers to the elements of a poem that engage a reader’s senses. Traditionally, the word “image” is related to visual sights, things that a reader can imagine seeing, but the imagery is much more than that. It is something one can sense with their five senses. Take for example the third stanza in which H.D.’s speaker describes the “you,” the rose, as being flung around in the sand. 

Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “Rose” and “rose” in the first line and “marred” and “meagre” in lines two and three of the first stanza. 

Enjambment occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. It forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. The second stanza provides the reader with several good examples. The stanza finishes off the sentence that was started in the first stanza, with each line rolling into the next creating an image of what “you” look like. 


Analysis of Sea Rose

Stanza One 

Rose, harsh rose, 


sparse of leaf, 

In the first stanza of ‘Sea Rose,’ the speaker begins describing a rose that is far from traditionally beautiful. It does not have any of the characteristics that people normally look for when trying to admire a flower. The second word of the poem “harsh” tells the reader most of what they need to know. 

Roses are usually described as fragile, vibrant, or beautiful, this rose is very different. It has unsightly petals and hardly any leaves at all. It’s easy to imagine this rose as close to death, with what little beauty it might once have had wilting. 


Stanza Two 

more precious 


you are caught in the drift. 

In the next four lines of ‘Sea Rose,’ the speaker admits that this rose is far more valuable to her than any of the more traditionally beautiful roses that are commonly the subject of poems. She refers to it as “precious” while also desiring how it is “caught in the drift” of the water and the wind. 

This particular rose is special because it grows somewhere that roses are not normally found. It is on a beach, caught in the tide between the vastness of the ocean and the sand. 


Stanza Three 

Stunted, with small leaf, 


that drives in the wind. 

She adds to the description in the next lines, saying again that the rose is not normal. It is “Stunted,” meaning that it has not grown as tall or as strong as other roses. This is quite obvious because of its location in/near the sea. The rose is exceedingly passive in this stanza. It is moved and controlled by its environment, adding most likely to the reason that it is “Stunted”. The rose has had to fight to survive. 


Stanza Four 

Can the spice-rose 


hardened in a leaf?

The last stanza is the shortest of the four at only three lines. The speaker concludes ‘Sea Rose’ by asking an interesting question. First, she refers to another kind of rose, the “spice rose,” which is commonly found in the gardens everywhere. These are the conventional beautiful roses that poets normally write poetry about.

While lovely, they do not compare to the sea rose that she’s so interested in. In this rhetorical question, she’s making the poem that the spice rose has a much less interesting scent and look than the sea rose does. It led a simple and easy life while the rose that’s out in the sea has had to fight for each moment, making it hardened in new ways but also more complex. 

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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