‘Ah! Sunflower’ is a deceptively complicated poem in which readers are confronted with familiar imagery that’s not easily interpreted. Blake writes about the sun, time, Heaven, the Virgin, and more within these eight lines, and readers are left to consider how they all go together and what possibilities it poem suggests.
Explore Ah! Sun-Flower
Summary of Ah! Sun-Flower
Despite seeming quite simple, this poem is fairly complicated. There are numerous different possible readings, and it is likely that most readers will come away with different interpretations of what the sunflower is supposed to represent. In the second stanza, after explaining that the sunflower is “weary of time,” the speaker says that it wants to join the “Youth” and the “Virgin” in what is presumably Heaven.
This poem can be found in Blake’s Songs of Experience, along with an engraving. It was published along with twenty-five other poems in 1794. It includes poems like ‘London’ and ‘The Lilly.’ The latter was included on the same engraved sheet as ‘Ah! Sun-Flower.’ It followed Songs of Innocence, which was published in 1789 and includes poems like ‘The Chimney Sweeper’ and ‘Laughing Song.’ The poems in Songs of Experience are generally considered to be darker than those in Songs of Innocence. The two books were eventually published together as Songs of Innocence and Experience.
Structure and Form
‘Ah! Sun-flower’ by William Blake is a two stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a simple rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD. Mostly, the poem follows a metrical pattern of anapaestic trimeter with a few iambs and trochees mixed into the lines as well. Anapaestic trimeter means that the majority of the lines contain three sets of three beats, the first two of which are unstressed or short, and the following beat is stressed or long.
Blake makes use of several literary devices in ‘Ah! Sun-flower.’ These include but are not limited to caesura, metaphor, enjambment, and allusion. The last of these, an allusion, is a reference that’s not fully explained. In this case, the poet mentions the “Virgin” in the second stanza. This is quite an obvious allusion to the Virgin Mary from the Christian religion.
The sunflower itself works as a metaphor throughout ‘Ah! Sun-flower.’ Depending on how one interprets the poem, it might be a metaphor or symbol of unending love, sinful humanity, lost innocence, or several other possible meanings.
Caesurae are pauses that occur at the beginning, middle, or end of lines. For example, line one of the first stanza reads: “Ah Sun-flower! weary of time.” Enjambment is another formal device used in these lines. It occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines three and four of the first stanza.
Analysis of Ah! Sun-Flower
Ah Sun-flower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun:
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the travellers journey is done.
In the first stanza of ‘Ah! Sun-Flower’ the speaker begins by addressing the sunflower, a clear example of an apostrophe. As if the sunflower can hear and possibly respond to the speaker, they continue to talk to it. He explains over it, thinking that it’s “weary of time” because it spends its days counting the steps of the sun. The sun is integrally tied to the speaker’s image of the flower. It’s continually seeking after that “sweet golden clime,” which can be interpreted as summer days when growing is easy, and the weather poses no difficulty for the plant’s ability to thrive.
The addition of the line, “Where the travellers journey is done,” complicates it. Suddenly, the sunflower becomes a symbol for someone seeking heaven, or at least a warm and peaceful death.
Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow:
Arise from their graves and aspire,
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.
The sunflower wishes to go to the same place as the Youth and Virgin. There, there’s no snow, no unfulfilled desire or darkness. This aspiration feels possible, but it’s clear the sunflower hasn’t made it there yet. The weary sigh that starts the poem and the depiction of the sunflower as tired from tracking the sun’s press might suggest to some readers that its aspirations are misplaced, and it won’t ever get to that perpetually sunny clime. Depending on what one’s interpretation of the sunflower is, this might be more or less troubling.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Ah! Sun-flower’ should also consider reading some of William Blake’s other, better-known poems. For example:
- ‘The Lamb’ – one of Blake’s best-known works. It depicts the “lamb,” a symbol for Christ and the purest parts of human nature.
- ‘Jerusalem’ – is a classic poem written around 1804. It analyzes the political period of the time and includes Christian allusions as well as allusions to the poet’s own opinions.
- ‘To Autumn’ – is one of four season-based poems that Blake wrote. This one focuses on fall and is meant to evoke feelings of that season. He focuses on the colors and how it should bring people joy.
- ‘The Schoolboy’ – was also published in Songs of Experience and is told from the perceptive of a young boy who doesn’t want to go back to school. He spends the poem stating all the ways that it’s negatively impacting him.