What are the moral lessons in "A Poison Tree" by William Blake?

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"A Poison Tree" by William Blake offers several moral lessons. It highlights the importance of expressing anger appropriately to prevent it from escalating. The poem warns against nurturing negative emotions like fear and anger, as they can prove deadly. Moreover, it cautions readers to be mindful of the deceitful motives of others and the potential for manipulation. The poem emphasizes the need for open communication and warns against harboring and nurturing wrath.

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This poem operates at the intersection of ethics and emotion. You can’t discuss the moral lessons of the poem without discussing what emotions are found in it.

In the first stanza, the narrator describes two instances in which he’s angry. In the first, he’s angry with a friend and expresses that anger, and it passes. In the second, he’s angry with an enemy, and he does not express it. The anger doesn’t pass, but instead increases. This is a lesson about emotion, but it spills into morality: how you handle your relationships and emotions determines what you feel later. More simply, when you communicate about your anger, you can let it go.

The later stanzas describe the narrator tending his anger like a garden (or at least a poison tree in a garden). As he tends his anger, feeding it with fear, it grows. It appears to be a healthy fruit, but it isn’t. This has more lessons on emotion: fear and anger are linked.

In the final stanza, the enemy eats the poison fruit and dies. The emotional lesson here is clear: anger is deadly. Taken together, lessons can be drawn.

Be careful how you treat your anger.

Anger can appear attractive on the surface.

Anger is ultimately deadly.

The explicitly moral lesson is "don’t feed your anger."

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William Blake intends, in A Poison Tree, to warn his readers that if they ignore his message regarding the "deceitful wiles" that cause hatred to intensify due to a lack of communication, they too can end up "outstretch'd beneath the tree"  or be a person destroyed by his own "wrath." In the poem, the narrator's "foe" becomes less afraid of the narrator, and does not realize the depth of his hatred as the narrator "sunned it with smiles" misleading the enemy. The deceit becomes so intense that it bears "an apple bright." Most readers would be familiar with any story of the core or center of an apple being bad, as it appears in The Creation, when Eve first eats from the apple and then deceives Adam- the figurative "poison" being how they lost their innocence and Eve effectively poisoned Adam's mind and also in Snow White, the wicked queen deceives Snow White, also an innocent young girl literally poisoned.

The moral lessons in A Poison Tree include the need to be cautious of the motives of others and the ability of others to manipulate the innocent. Furthermore, the reader should recognize evil within himself before it becomes destructive and he is "glad" to see his enemy dead, even though he lured him to his death. The reader should ensure open communication and should not nurture hatred or "wrath"  or it will "grow."   

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What is the moral proposition of Blake's poem “A Poison Tree"?

Suppressed anger could lead to spiritual degeneration—this is the central moral proposition of Blake’s “A Poison Tree.” According to the poet, it’s always good to disclose one’s anger instead of suppressing it. Expression of anger doesn’t allow it grow into a malicious force. Instead, it paves the way for a better understanding and healthier relationship between two persons.

On the other hand, if one buries anger within oneself, it gets planted like a seed. With time, it grows into a destructive and malicious force.

The poet has beautifully expressed this idea by using an extended simile of a seed. The seed of anger gets planted once we suppress our wrath instead of acknowledging it. Behind our fake smiles and gentle demeanor, we keep it hidden.

And I sunnéd it with smiles
And with soft deceitful wiles.

Meanwhile, the seed is nourished and grows into a big tree. Its growth suggests the gradual corruption of the mind. It means the spiteful evil thoughts grow stronger in us.

Blake stretches the simile further and says that, with time, the seed develops into a fruit-bearing tree.

And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright,

The fruit the tree bears is highly poisonous. The enemy of the speaker dies as soon as he plucks the fruit and tastes it. We see that the suppressed anger represented by the apple has grown into a malevolent force, powerful enough to destroy a life.

So, the poet is suggesting that if wrath is suppressed, it will corrupt one’s mind and thoughts. Suppressed and buried, it will grow sinister and dangerous. Thus, one should acknowledge one’s anger immediately in order to avoid one’s spiritual degradation.

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