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In Williams Blake’s “A Poison Tree” from his wildly popular work Songs of Innocence and Experience: Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul (1794), Blake addresses the “poisonous” results of issues gone unresolved. The poem’s title is entirely fitting in that it provides a metaphor for the results of anger. In this work, the narrator first explains that after revealing his discontent with his friend, “[his] wrath did end.” But when he withheld his anger, it grew like a tree, being watered in “fears” and “tears” and sunned by “smiles” and “wiles.” This anger led to the creation of a tree– a tree with a shining, poisonous apple. As the narrator’s foe desired the fruit of the tree, he snuck in under the cover of night to steal it. The man woke to find his enemy lying “outstretched beneath the tree,” killed by the poison apple. This apple, germinated by the man’s suppressed anger, ultimately led to his enemy’s demise.
I believe that Blake created this work to shed light on the results of withheld anger. Harboring a grudge will cause it to grow in scale, and it will ultimately have a bitter end. By quickly addressing a problem, the magnanimity of it is lessened; on the other hand, if left alone, it will grow a “poison apple.” This poem seems to serve as a simplified example of the issues associated with anger. It teaches that frustration must be dealt with immediately or the results will be incredibly harsh. While the poem was written in the late eighteenth century, the central idea of the work is applicable to any time period. History shows that mankind has always struggled with unresolved issues; many of our wars have been the escalated results of originally trivial issues. The narrator’s attitude in this work is that of judgment and vengeance. He ultimately seems glad to have caused his foe’s death. Blake, however, is actually using the man to shed light on the negatives of withholding anger, and he himself adapts a vaguely didactic tone. Blake succeeds in teaching this lesson through the use of a metaphor: a tree and its fruit. By doing so, he is able to exaggerate the effects of emotions. The personification he uses goes hand in hand with the metaphor; the narrator waters and suns the poison tree with his emotions, and his wrath physically grows. The imagery created with these poetic devices is vibrant. A reader can imagine the actual growth of the tree and its fruits, as well as the man eating it. The metaphor makes it much easier to truly understand the effects of bottled-up emotion.
William Blake’s A Poison Tree is held in high regards by much of the literary world due to its skillful design and philosophical content. By never directly giving a moral, the work is able to evoke open-minded thoughts from the reader. If it had done so, it would have lost much of its effect. However, in doing this Blake hopes to cause his readers to see the faults in holding in emotions, as the effects can literally be fatal. His work is applicable to persons of every time period, which also adds to its popularity and influence.
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