How is the time period in which William Blake wrote reflected in the poem "A Poison Tree"?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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“A Poison Tree,” written by William Blake, was published in the Song of Experience in 1794.  The first person narration describes two different situations concerning extreme anger.  Blake expresses the results of holding in this anger and not communicating with the subject of the fury:

I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

An English poet, painter, and printer, Blake lived and worked in London.  This was a revolutionary time in England. The American Revolution was done and the country was recuperating economically.  In 1794, the society in which he lived greatly influenced his writing.  The French Revolution was inspirational in the sense that ordinary people were able to seize power.During this era, London became urbanized. 

The industrial revolution entered Blakes' world in the late 18th century.  Blake did not like the emphasis on machines along with sexually transmitted diseases.  As Blake matured, his disgust with society grew. The conditions faced by people allowed society to decay physically, morally, and sexually.  Blake tended to be pessimistic about London’s progress and almost without hope at this time.

Another influence on Blake’s writing was his unusual religious views He rejected established religion, in part because the Church did not keep children from being forced to work. Child labor was common and dangerous. Blake discovered that money was spent on church buildings while children lived in poverty.  To Blake, this made a charade of the love and care which should be the focus of the Christian religion. Blake believed in the Bible but despised the Church of England.  

Insurgents like Blake felt that the Church’s policies smothered the “evil” emotions in people, such as anger and frustration.  “A Poison Tree” was written to indicate that Blake believed that suppressing anger based on the teaching of the Church would only enhance the resentment felt by the person.  The original title of the poem was “Christian Forbearance.  The English government forbid radical action and began to persecute the dissenters.

Blake was not popular during his lifetime.  Only after his death, did critics re-examine his work and place him among the great English writers.



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