A Poison Tree Commonlit Answers

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  • 1794
  • 10th Grade

Source: A Poison Tree by William Blake

Assessment Answers

QuestionAnswer
PART A: Which of the following best describes a major theme of the poem?Bottling up one’s feelings leads to resentment and even violence.
PART B: Which of the following quotes best supports the answer to Part A?“I was angry with my foe: / I told it not, my wrath did grow.” (Lines 3-4)
How do the speaker’s actions in the first stanza provoke action in the poem?The speaker does not express their anger to their foe, and because of this, their anger worsens until it eventually grows into a poisonous tree.
What impact does the figurative language in lines 5-8 have on the poem’s meaning?The speaker tends to their wrath like a plant that
later produces a poisoned fruit, implying that anger can feel satisfying but is toxic to let grow.

How does the conclusion of the poem impact the poem’s theme?

The poem’s conclusion, with the foe dead under the poison tree, has a profound impact on the poem’s theme in several ways:

1. Reinforces the destructive nature of bottled-up anger: The most obvious impact is the stark illustration of the theme. The poisoned apple, a symbol of festering anger, leads to the foe’s death, representing the destructive potential of unexpressed negativity. It serves as a chilling warning against suppressing our emotions.

2. Adds ambiguity and complexity: While the conclusion reinforces the dangers of suppressed anger, it also introduces ambiguity. While the speaker may not have directly poisoned the foe, the act of creating the poisonous tree implicates them in the outcome. This raises questions about responsibility and the line between expressing and acting upon anger.

3. Creates a sense of unease and discomfort: The poem’s closing image, with the speaker seemingly unconcerned about the death, leaves the reader uneasy. This discomfort challenges the idea of catharsis through violence and forces us to confront the moral implications of the speaker’s actions.

4. Opens up interpretation: The ambiguity adds layers of interpretation. Was the death unintended, a tragic consequence of the speaker’s anger? Or was it a calculated act of revenge? This openness sparks discussion and debate, preventing the poem from offering a simple answer to the dangers of suppressed anger.

In conclusion, the poem’s conclusion is not merely a resolution; it deepens the exploration of the theme. It reinforces the dangers of bottled-up anger while injecting ambiguity and discomfort, challenging readers to engage with the moral complexities of the poem’s message.

Discussion Answers

Why do you think the speaker tells their friend that they are angry with them but does not tell their enemy? Have you ever been in a similar situation and, if so, how did you behave? Why?

Imagine you’re boiling a pot of water. You keep the lid off with your friend, letting the steam vent and the water simmer down. You talk things out, maybe even yell a bit, but eventually, it cools off. That’s kinda like telling your friend you’re mad.

But with your enemy? You keep that pot clamped shut, letting the pressure build and bubble inside. You might plaster on a fake smile, throw in a few snarky comments, but the anger just keeps brewing. That’s what’s happening with the speaker in “A Poison Tree.”

Why the difference? Well, with a friend, there’s trust. You know they care, that they’ll listen, and that even if things get heated, you’ll come out the other side stronger. It’s like shaking a soda can – the fizz might explode at first, but then it settles.

With an enemy, it’s the opposite. There’s no trust, just tension, and suspicion. Telling them you’re mad is like pouring gasoline on a fire – it might feel good in the moment, but it’s gonna make things worse. So, the speaker keeps quiet, bottling up their anger until it turns into something toxic, like that poisonous apple in the poem.

Have I ever been in a similar situation? Yeah, for sure. We all have those frenemies or classmates who just rub us the wrong way. Sometimes, I’ve fallen into the trap of keeping quiet, letting the resentment fester. But usually, I try to remember the pot analogy. Talking it out is way better than letting the anger become poisonous, even if it’s awkward.

It’s not always easy, though. Sometimes, saying what you’re feeling can be scary, especially if the other person might react badly. But here’s the thing: keeping it bottled up is way worse. It eats away at you, makes you bitter, and can even damage your relationships with other people.

So, my advice is this: next time you feel mad at someone, don’t just clamp down on it. Try to find a healthy way to express it, whether it’s talking to them directly, writing it down, or even just punching a pillow (not your enemy, please!). Trust me, letting the steam out is way better than letting it turn into a poisonous tree.

Remember, communication is key, even when it’s tough. And hey, if all else fails, there’s always the option of baking a delicious (non-poisonous) apple pie and sharing it with someone you actually like.


Consider the consequences of the speaker’s actions. What is Blake trying to convey about anger and emotion in this poem? What could have prevented or changed the conclusion of this poem?

The speaker’s actions in “A Poison Tree” have chilling consequences, both directly in the death of their foe and within the speaker’s own mind. Through this bleak picture, Blake conveys a powerful message about the dangers of suppressed anger and the importance of emotional honesty.

Consequences of the speaker’s actions:

  • Destruction and death: The most immediate consequence is the foe’s demise. The poisonous apple, a symbol of the speaker’s festering anger, acts as a weapon, leaving a clear message about the destructive potential of bottled-up emotions.
  • Moral ambiguity: While the outcome might seem like poetic justice, it leaves the speaker’s culpability unclear. Did they intentionally create the deadly fruit or simply let their resentment grow out of control? This ambiguity forces us to question the line between expressing and acting upon anger.
  • Emotional isolation: The speaker’s choice to remain silent isolates them both from their foe and potentially from healthy relationships. Holding onto anger creates a barrier, preventing genuine connection and fostering bitterness.

Blake’s message about anger and emotion:

  • The dangers of suppression: The poem serves as a stark warning against bottling up anger. Suppressing our emotions doesn’t make them disappear; it allows them to fester and grow, potentially leading to destructive consequences.
  • The importance of expression: Open communication, even when difficult, is crucial for healthy emotional well-being. Sharing our anger, whether constructively with a friend or through creative outlets, helps release its power and prevents it from turning toxic.
  • The complexities of anger: While the poem clearly condemns bottled-up anger, it also acknowledges its complexities. Anger can be a righteous emotion, and the poem leaves room to question whether the foe deserved their fate.

Possible alternatives to prevent or change the conclusion:

  • Honest communication: Had the speaker confronted their foe openly, the conflict might have been resolved, preventing the tragic outcome. Even if heated, open dialogue can offer a path towards understanding and forgiveness.
  • Self-reflection and emotional release: Recognizing their own anger and finding healthy ways to express it, such as writing or exercise, could have helped the speaker break the cycle of resentment and prevent the poisonous tree from growing.
  • External intervention: A neutral third party, potentially a therapist or mediator, could have facilitated communication and understanding between the speaker and their foe, potentially averting the violent conclusion.

In conclusion, “A Poison Tree” paints a dark picture of the consequences of suppressed anger, urging us to embrace open communication and emotional honesty. While the poem offers no easy answers, it invites us to contemplate the complexities of anger and explore alternative paths towards healthy resolution.

It’s never too late to address your own anger and build healthier relationships by constructively expressing your emotions.


In the context of this poem, is revenge ever justified? If so, when? Is the speaker’s act of revenge in this poem justified? Cite evidence from this text, your own experience, and other literature, art, or history in your answer.

Whether revenge is ever justified is a complex question that has been pondered by philosophers, artists, and everyday people for centuries. There’s no easy answer, and “A Poison Tree” by William Blake doesn’t offer one either. Instead, the poem presents a chilling cautionary tale about the destructive nature of suppressed anger and the potential consequences of seeking revenge.

Arguments against revenge:

  • It perpetuates a cycle of violence: Revenge rarely ends a conflict. It often leads to retaliation, creating a vicious cycle that can escalate and harm even more people. The speaker’s poisoned apple, born from their hidden anger, ultimately leads to their foe’s death, showcasing this destructive cycle.
  • It consumes the avenger: Focusing on revenge can consume the avenger, preventing them from moving on and leading a fulfilling life. The speaker in “A Poison Tree” becomes fixated on their anger, nurturing it like a poisonous plant, and ultimately suffers the emotional and moral consequences.
  • It doesn’t bring back what was lost: Revenge can’t undo the past or erase the pain caused by another’s actions. The speaker’s act of revenge, no matter how satisfying it might seem in the moment, doesn’t bring back their friend or erase the anger that festered within them.

Arguments for revenge in certain situations:

  • Justice and accountability: In some cases, particularly when faced with systemic injustice or oppression, seeking revenge can be seen as a way to hold perpetrators accountable and achieve a sense of justice. However, ensuring that any such action is undertaken within a legal and ethical framework is crucial.
  • Self-defense and protection: If someone is in immediate danger, taking action to protect themselves or others could be considered justified, even if it involves harming the aggressor. However, this should always be a last resort and used only when absolutely necessary.
  • Healing and closure: For some, the act of seeking revenge can be a part of the healing process, offering a sense of closure and control over a traumatic experience. However, it’s important to remember that true healing often comes through forgiveness and letting go of resentment, not through perpetuating violence.

Is the speaker’s act of revenge justified?

In the context of “A Poison Tree,” it’s difficult to definitively say whether the speaker’s act of revenge is justified. The poem deliberately leaves the reader with a sense of ambiguity. While the foe may have wronged the speaker somehow, the poem offers no details about the nature of the conflict or the foe’s actions.

Furthermore, the speaker’s actions of nurturing their anger and ultimately creating a deadly weapon raise questions about their own culpability and responsibility for the outcome.

Drawing on other examples:

Throughout history and literature, countless examples explore the theme of revenge and its consequences. Consider:

  • The Old Testament story of Samson: Driven by vengeance for the Philistines’ cruelty, Samson destroys himself along with his enemies. This cautionary tale highlights the destructive power of unchecked anger and the tragic consequences of revenge.
  • Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet”: Prince Hamlet wrestles with the dilemma of whether to avenge his father’s murder. The play explores the moral complexities of revenge and the psychological toll it takes on the avenger.
  • The film “Kill Bill: Vol. 1” by Quentin Tarantino: The Bride, a former assassin seeking revenge for her betrayal and near-death experience, unleashes a bloody rampage. While the film offers a cathartic experience for some viewers, it also raises questions about the cycle of violence and the emotional cost of revenge.

These examples showcase the diverse perspectives on revenge and its consequences. Ultimately, it’s up to each individual to grapple with this complex issue and decide where they stand on the spectrum of justification.

Remember:

  • Revenge is a powerful emotion that can have devastating consequences.
  • It’s important to carefully consider the potential costs and outcomes before seeking revenge.
  • Often, alternative paths like forgiveness, justice through legal channels, or focusing on healing can offer more constructive solutions.

The choice is yours: will you nurture your anger like a poisonous tree, or will you seek alternative paths towards resolution and peace?

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Dr. Evelyn Wordsworth
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