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The Human Abstract/ a Poison Tree

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    To analyze and compare William Blake’s poems “The Human Abstract” and “A Poison Tree”, it is necessary to understand not only his words, but human nature and the mind as a whole. We as people have many tendencies and susceptibilities to everything that happens in our daily lives; toward nature, emotions, friends, and enemies. Our reactions to these tendencies shape our emotions, and enable us to build feelings and expectations of others. In “A Poison Tree”, Blake introduces the cultivation of anger as the principle theme.

    He maintains that restraining anger, rather than preventing cruelty and aggression, gives extra energy to aggression and strengthens cruelty. In “The Human Abstract”, Blake suggests that intellectualized virtues such as mercy, pity, peace, and love are a breeding ground for cruelty. He depicts cruelty as a conniving and devious person, and by planting a tree, lays a trap. William Blake travels deep into the darkest regions of the human brain to display a side of people not commonly seen. He shows us how our simplistic human emotions can develop into a web of interrelated feelings.

    The poem “The Human Abstract” takes a close look at four virtues: Mercy, pity, peace, and love. Blake argues that pity could not exist without poverty, and that mercy would not be necessary if everyone was happy. He goes on to say that the source of peace is within fear, which gives rise only to “selfish loves”. In quatrains 3-6, The poem goes onto describe how cruelty plants and waters a tree in “the Human Brain”, with humility being the roots, mystery being the leaves, and deceit as the fruit. This tree flourishes on fear and weeping, and its branches harbour a raven, the symbol of death.

    This metaphor suggests that keeping emotions and feelings buried deep down inside will only result in those feelings and emotions becoming stronger, and feeding upon themselves to become more influential. This is where the principle theme of “A Poison Tree” ties in. it speaks not only about anger itself, but how the suppression of anger leads to the cultivation of rage. Burying anger rather than exposing it and acknowledging it, according to “A Poison Tree,” turns anger into a seed that will germinate. Through the cultivation of that seed, which is nourished by the energy of the angry person, wrath can grow into a powerful force. I was angry with my foe: I told it not, my wrath did grow. And I waterd it in fears, Night & morning with my tears: And I sunned it with smiles, And with soft deceitful wiles. ” In these lines, Blake talks about how he has kept his anger to himself, and by doing so tended to and cultivated his anger. He speaks of his fury not as an emotion, but as a small plant in which he “waterd” with tears. Using another metaphor, he “sunned it with smiles/And with soft deceitful wiles”. The use of the word wiles suggests he is luring his foe into trusting him, tempting him to desire something that seems appealing but is actually destructive.

    In doing this he makes his behavior seem more attractive, coaxing his foe to give in to him. This idea is similar to the fruit of deceit, which is “Ruddy and sweet to eat” in the fifth quatrain of “The Human Abstract”, in the way that suppressing anger is a more convenient choice rather than confronting and dealing with it. The “apple bright” that is spoken of in “The Poison Tree” is suggestive that his feelings have begun to carry so much weight, that it now has a presence, and is an actual entity.

    This apple also carries the illusion of temptation, being that it is bright, giving it the image of being ripe. “The Human Abstract” states that traditional Christian virtues such as mercy and pity presume a world of poverty and torment. This gives the reader an assumption that these virtues register no obligation to alleviate suffering or create a fairer world. By suggesting this he refuses to think of these virtues as ideals because in an ideal world that contains no poverty or suffering, there would be no use for them. The raven depicted is seen by Christians as a carrier of their souls to damnation.

    A religious parallel found in “The Poison Tree” is the apple, which can be contrasted to the apple from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. This metaphor can be used to translate the speaker’s anger with his foe to the anger of god with humanity. “He sits down with holy fears, And waters the ground with tears; Then Humility takes its root Underneath his foot. ” Humility in the poem “The Human Abstract” is regarded as an acceptance after asking for forgiveness for your sins. This religious aspect taking its root is now the base for a tree that casts a shade of mystery over him.

    In suggesting this, Blake refutes the word of god, saying that the only reason one would have humility is because of their “holy fears” (the fear of being damned for eternity for not confessing their sins). In “A Poison Tree”, Blake states that his foe is found possibly dead underneath his tree. His death can be attributed to eating the forbidden apple, which in turn relates to the deadly raven that sits nested in the tree of deceit from “The Human Abstract”, and is also crawling with caterpillars and flies, which can cause damage to the tree and carry disease.

    The two core themes discussed in “The Human Abstract” and A Poison Tree”, are suppression of anger, and the effect of the religious doctrine on the human experience of emotion. The two poems both assert a moral lesson rather than critiquing the theological system altogether. They merely affirm that a heavy religious belief may often result in more anguish for not resolving your sins, rather than utter happiness out of the love you are expected to feel from your god. Bake demonstrates that suppression rather than expression of emotions leads to a corruption of those feelings, and to a decay of innocence.

    Since he found this incident to be much more prominent among the Christian faith, it is fair to assume that Blake believed that the adherents of conventional Christianity were taught to maintain hypocrisy, causing people to pretend to be much more happier than they were. Thus enabling them to hide evil intent, and perform evil deeds, while under the cover of appearing virtuous. The characteristics of these poems when contrasted together refer to an unpleasant side of the human form: self -absorption. They expose the human character, and demonstrate how mankind, even when adhering to religious doctrine, can be naturally evil and corrupt.

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    The Human Abstract/ a Poison Tree. (2017, Mar 13). Retrieved from

    Frequently Asked Questions

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    What is the main message in A Poison Tree?
    A Poison Tree is a short and deceptively simple poem about repressing anger and the consequences of doing so. The speaker tells of how they fail to communicate their wrath to their foe and how this continues to grow until it develops into poisonous hatred.
    Who is the foe in A Poison Tree?
    The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is the poem's tree. The Serpent is the speaker, both tempting and deceitful. And Adam and Eve are the foe, both guilty of disobedience.

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