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Explication of William Blake's A Poison Tree

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Explication of William Blake's A Poison Tree

William Blake's "A Poison Tree" (1794) stands as one of his most intriguing poems, memorable for its vengeful feel and sinister act of deceit. This poem appears in his famous work Songs of Innocence and Experience: Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul (1794), placed significantly in the "Songs of Experience" section. As with many of his poems, Blake wants to impart a moral lesson here, pointing of course to the experience we gain in our human existence at the cost of our innocence. With this poem, he suggests that holding a grudge (suppressed anger left unchecked) can be fatal to the self as well as the object of wrath. Through images, punctuation, and word choice, Blake warns that remaining silent about our anger only hinders personal and spiritual growth, making us bitter, and that a grudge left unchecked becomes dangerous, even murderous.

In the first stanza, Blake comments on the need to confront a problem if peace and happiness are to prevail. When the speaker "tells" his wrath, it "ends," but when he "tells it not," his anger "grows." Like an apple seed falling onto fertile soil, the speaker's repressed anger germinates and becomes the one obsession in his life. In the first couplet, Blake conveys the image of a plant being uprooted, nipping in the bud (as it were) a misunderstanding between the speaker and his friend. In sharp contrast, the speaker holds back from admitting anger to his foe in the following couplet, allowing it to fester within. With simple language, Blake neatly establishes the root of the poem, ending this first stanza with the foreshadowing "grow" (4).

The second stanza depicts the speaker's treatment and nur...

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...ional anger. The speaker realizes he is morally wrong, but gets so caught up in the moment and the seeming brilliance of his scheme that cannot stop himself from seeing it through. Unchecked anger drives the speaker to commit this murderous act, anger he cannot or refuses to acknowledge from the start of the poem. The mortal sin of murder will forever stain his hands - he cannot go on with living unless he suppresses the event, as he did his wrath.

"A Poison Tree" suggests to me a prisoner's confession without actually naming or describing the crime itself. The speaker takes the time to brag about how he implemented his plan, without admitting his crime. Thus this poem's impact lies in the dangers that can arise from allowing one's anger to grow unchecked and take over our minds, hearts, and souls, like a wild plant in the garden of our experience.