Tupac Shakur’s ‘The Rose That Grew From Concrete‘ is a simple yet evocative depiction of beauty’s ability to survive despite circumstances that would ordinarily stifle it. The poem symbolically reflects the ability an artist, or person more broadly, has to break through barriers in order to become the individual they want to be.
‘The Rose That Grew From Concrete‘ explores ideas including perseverance and belief through an extended metaphor.
The poem begins by asking whether the reader or some other figure had ever heard about the titular rose, which immediately establishes the flower’s growth to be something out of the ordinary. It continues by exploring how the rose was able to thrive despite its less-than-ideal surroundings. This is largely attributed to the flower’s unique qualities, as the poet imbues it with personality and individualism. Ultimately, the poem concludes by heralding the rose and celebrating its ability to grow and provide beauty where nobody thought it was possible.
You can read the full poem here.
‘The Rose That Grew From Concrete‘ is the title poem of Shakur’s 1999 collection, though it was written between 1989 and 1991 when Shakur was still a teenager. While predominately known as a rapper, Shakur’s interest in poetry has come to light since his death in 1996, as demonstrated by a book of haikus he wrote aged just eleven, which was auctioned in 2022. Like his music, his poetry is largely concerned with social issues, particularly the treatment of African Americans and systemic inequality. Having become one of the most successful and influential musical artists in the world, Shakur was tragically murdered in 1996 at the age of just twenty-five.
Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature’s law is wrong it
learned to walk with out having feet.
The use of the direct address creates a personal tone and implies the speaker is addressing the reader individually. It also serves to create a sense of urgency, perhaps encouraging those readers to reflect on why the rose had to endure such hardships at all. The use of the rhetorical question also places the onus on the reader to justify the flower’s treatment. Likewise, the alliteration in the second line creates a harsh, aggressive sound to emphasize the pain and suffering experienced by the flower, even when all it wished to do was exist and evoke beauty.
The hyperbolic claim that the rose “prov[ed] nature’s law is wrong” showcases the value the poet placed on simple acts of beauty and on living a peaceful existence. Shakur then personifies the flower, further imbuing it with agency and personality. This could be intended to imply that, while the plant cannot physically move, its message can travel many miles. Finally, the reference to the flower’s lack of feet could be an example of meta-textual humor, as Shakur could be hinting at his unorthodox entry into the world of poetry, as poetic lines are laid out and measured in feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,
when no one else ever cared.
The poem continues to personify the flower by referring to its dreams, establishing a direct connection between having hopes and aspirations and living a better, more fulfilling life. The idea that a being can somehow learn to breathe fresh air places a degree of emphasis on the individual by suggesting they can overcome their circumstances through perseverance and self-belief, just as the rose has. Finally, the speaker returns to the juxtaposition between the flower and the concrete, to once again reinforce the magnitude of the rose’s story. The caustic final line functions as a challenge to the reader for being complicit in a world where only the very strongest and most determined things can endure.
The rose can be viewed as an extended metaphor for a person that has grown up in poverty but managed to break free of the constraints placed upon them by society. It could also represent the life of African Americans who Shakur observed pushing against similar barriers in life. Crucially, the fact that it is a single rose is significant as it suggests that the majority of people cannot break free of these oppressive structures.
The single stanza poem is written in free verse, though it does feature rhyming lines, specifically ‘concrete’ & ‘feet’ and ‘air’ & ‘cared’. These rhymes could suggest the memory of rigid social structures which have been broken, just as the rose has broken the surface of the concrete.
The speaker appears to be spreading the message that the sight of the rose inspired, passing it on so that the reader too might carry it with them.
The tone shifts between appearing hopeful and celebratory and angry and accusatory. Whilst Shakur is keen to emphasise the rose’s qualities, he is frustrated that they are necessary characteristics to survive in the world.
Readers who enjoyed ‘The Rose That Grew From Concrete‘ might want to explore similar poetry. For example:
- ‘Blowin’ in the Wind‘ by Bob Dylan – Another songwriter, Dylan’s work is similarly charged with a broader purpose.
- ‘White Roses‘ by Gillian Clarke – This poem also uses roses as a symbol, this time to explore mortality and sickness.
- ‘Harlem (A Dream Deferred)‘ by Langston Hughes – This poem examines the difficulties a black man experiences in a white-dominated world.