Anger is a strange emotion. Unlike sadness or happiness, it is possible to overcome anger through rationalization and personal decisions. Sadness and happiness are often related to the actions of others, just as is anger, but a person can choose whether or not the anger will be able to consume them. If the anger is not let go, it will continue to grow and eventually will cause harm either to the individual or to someone else. The power over anger that a person has is nearly as strong, if not stronger, than the actual emotional charge of anger but, when it is left alone to flourish, anger can become all consuming. The character of a person can easily be defined through their ability to control their anger and to forgive rather than to allow anger to control their lives. In William Blake’s poem, ‘The Poison Tree,’ the author explains that forgiveness is a choice and anger can build only if it is allowed to grow in the mind of the individual.
Looking carefully at the idea of forgiveness, Blake explains that ‘I was angry with my friend; I told my wrath, my wrath did end’ (1-2). Very clearly the author shows that it is possible to stop being angry with a simple choice. The most relevant part of this anger towards his friend is that it is short lived both in the context of the poem and in the literal sense of the lines. In other words, the anger that the speaker has for his friend only consumes a moment of his time and, as a result, only consumes two lines of the poem. This anger is never again mentioned nor is it referenced throughout the following lines of the poem. In this, Blake is showing the reader that forgiveness must come swiftly and then the anger must truly be let go without any further discussion. This is the true element of forgiveness that many people are unable to comprehend.
The remaining fourteen lines of the poem are about the anger that the speaker felt for his foe. This shows that the speaker was unable to move beyond the anger because he ‘told it not, my wrath did grow’ (Blake 4). He did not address his foe nor did he internally address his anger. Instead, this anger began to absorb him and take over the rest of his life just as it took over the rest of the lines of the poem. Nothing else could be explore and nothing else could be discussed because this anger had become such a part of him that he was unable to see beyond it. The anger simply continued to grow and, as it grew, it became a constant and somewhat of a comfort to the speaker. He knew no other way than to nourish the anger and allow it to continue to grow.
However, Blake questions what type of nourishment a man consumed with anger can actually provide and what good could actually come from this type of nourishment. Of course, Blake answers by explaining that anger is nourished through fear and tears. He continues to state that smiles and deceitfulness continue to provide stamina for the growth of anger. In fact, it appears that the anger chooses what types of nourishment will be granted by consuming all of the decisions made by the speaker. The anger took over the entire life as ‘it grew both day and night’ (Blake 9). There was no rest just as there is no rest when nourishing a child. However, with a child, a parent can control the outcome to some extent. Yet, the anger pulled from the deceitfulness of its nourishment and formed an enticement that would draw in the foe as ‘it bore an apple bright’ (Blake 10).
Revenge is the manifestation of anger when it is allowed to grow and consume the speaker as the speaker watches in silent as his anger takes the life of his foe. Yet, this very speaker, who was capable of forgiveness and moving on without anger when considering his friend, allowed this anger to consume him and eventually to consume his foe. This raises the question regarding the ending as ‘in the morning, glad I see; My foe outstretched beneath the tree’ (Blake 15-16). As this ends the poem, it is presumable that this also ends the anger in the speaker. Perhaps he is able to let the anger go now that his foe is no longer around or perhaps his anger has taken over to such an extent that he is truly glad that his foe has perished through the manifestation of his anger.
In William Blake’s poem, ‘The Poison Tree,’ the amount of time spent on forgiveness versus the amount of time spent nurturing anger provides the reader with a strong understanding of Blake’s primary message in the poem. Forgiveness only allows anger to take up a few lines or moments in a person’s life. It does not change or control them. Holding on to anger takes control over the rest of a person’s life or, in this case, the rest of the lines of the poem. It can change a person’s whole perspective and create negative feelings that could have been avoided. In sum, William Blake tells his readers to not spend too much time on anger as forgiveness lets a person move on while anger holds them back.
- Blake, William. ‘A Poison Tree.’ 1794. Web. 12 Oct 2016.