Sea Rose Poem By Hilda Doolittle Summary, Notes And Line By Line Analysis In English


Sea Rose by Hilda Doolittle is a short poem that although appears to be speaking of two types of roses, when looked at closely is metaphorically contrasting two types of women. 

About the Poet

Born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Hilda Doolittle was  an American modernist poet and novelist. She was more popularly known by her initials H.D and was a part of the Imagist movement in the early 20th century, a movement that called for clarity and vivid imagery along with economy. H.D is often considered a pioneer of feminist literature with her poetries often exploring the themes of gender, sexuality and identity.

Stanza 1

Rose, harsh rose, 
marred and with stint of petals, 
meagre flower, thin, 
sparse of leaf, 

The speaker begins by describing a rose with attributes that are rather unusual to be that of a rose. Where traditionally roses are considered pretty and delicate, the speaker talks of a rose that is harsh and marred. It is thin and void of many petals and leaves. The image of a weak rose is built in this stanza.

Stanza 2

more precious 
than a wet rose 
single on a stem— 
you are caught in the drift. 

In the following stanza the speaker asserts the speciality of this particular sea rose and proclaims it far more precious than any other rose that is usually perceived pretty. This unique  rose seems to be caught in a drift, the statement hints that the rose grows somewhere roses don’t usually grow, in essence a beach perhaps. 

Stanza 3

Stunted, with small leaf, 
you are flung on the sand, 
you are lifted 
in the crisp sand 
that drives in the wind.

The speaker constructs beautiful imagery adding that the rose is stunted, meaning it is not as tall as the other roses. Here, the rose is depicted as a passive being that is influenced by its environment and has little control over things. However, the stanza also showcases its resilience and strength, the fact that it is still there and has not perished. 

Stanza 4

Can the spice-rose 
drip such acrid fragrance 
hardened in a leaf?

The concluding stanza adds a powerful essence to the entire poem with the speaker asking a rhetorical yet interesting question. The speaker inquires whether a spice rose, which is the most conventional type and has grown in its comfort environment, smells as fragrant as the sea rose, the one that has blossomed defying all odds?


The poet begins by describing a rose that defies the notion of being perfect. The sea rose symbolizes a woman who breaks through the conventional image of a woman who is petite and perfect. Instead this sea rose is a woman who has blossomed in the most adverse conditions and yet emerged stronger and more special.

Conversely, the spice rose which is commonly found in English gardens and fondly poeticised and romanticized is a rose that bloomed in its natural habitat and has not faced much hardship. The poem embeds the idea that being imperfect is also beautiful and that being perfect is not an achievement that all must strive for.