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A poison tree: Poetry Prescription

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A Comparison Essay on ‘A Poison Tree’ and ‘Envy’ In this essay, i will be comparing the two poems; ‘A Poison Tree’ and ‘Envy’. I will be picking apart the poem to try and find both similarities and differences of the two poems. I will try to compare the structure, tone, rhythm/rhyme and imagery of the poems. First, I will find the similarities and differences of the language in the poems, and then the structure.

Both poems use an extended metaphor about plant life (both use the idea of watering the plant – encouraging the problem to grow) to make their points more relatable; they are trying to teach us something and are didactic. They, ultimately, are trying to tell us to communicate; whether that be with others in ‘A Poison Tree’ or with yourself in ‘Envy’. The two poems also use common feelings to try and make them more relatable – ‘A Poison Tree’ uses anger, and ‘Envy’ uses jealousy.

It is also quite easy to see that the anger emotion in ‘A Poison Tree’ could be swapped for almost any emotion. Both poems also mention one of the seven deadly sins each; ‘wrath’ and ‘envy’. ‘A Poison Tree’ has other links to the biblical story Adam and Eve. Lastly, both poems have emotional or internal conflict. ‘A Poison Tree’ has both anger and guilt; anger at his foe, and guilt at himself at the end of the poem after his foe is killed to show that you should communicate your feelings to others that you may have conflict with. ‘Envy’ uses jealousy to show that you should be proud of what you have.

The obvious difference between both poems is the different emotions used – however, they both come under the branch of ‘bad’ emotions. Both poems use a first person speaker, but somewhat differently. ‘A Poison Tree’ takes advantage of the first person perspective by using it to involve himself in the plot of the poem. However, ‘Envy’ uses the first person perspective in a less obvious way; Mary Lamb utilises the first person speaker to observe upon the tree and comment on its behaviour. ‘A Poison Tree’ also contains two clear turning points which help the reader to understand the character of the speaker. The first comes after the opening two lines and shows the difference in how the speaker handles a difficult situation in two separate cases. In the second, symmetry is introduced in the final two lines and shows the speaker’s reaction to what has happened.

The wording at this point is ambiguous. It is a new day and a new beginning but the result of the speaker’s untold anger is still there to see. This makes the reader continue to think about the poem after they have finished reading it. Both poems are, however, in first person, making both of them subjective with just one point of view; for example, we don’t know why the tree in ‘Envy’ wanted someone else’s traits.

The language used in the two poems is very different. ‘A Poison Tree’ uses much simpler language than that of ‘Envy’ to make the thematic concern very clear and so that one doesn’t have to read too much in between the lines of the poem to work out what William Blake is trying to say. ‘Envy’ has a very different story; the only real clue to the moral of the story is the title. ‘Envy’ is full of metaphors within metaphors with both colloquial and formal language making it much more complex to read.

‘A Poison Tree’ has four quatrains. Each quatrain consists of a pair of rhyming couplets in the regular repeated pattern aabb. Whereas ‘Envy’ has three sestains. Each sestain consist of the rhyming pattern aabccb. The rhythm of ‘A Poison Tree’ is also straightforward and regular which makes it very easy to read, with each line having either seven or eight syllables. ‘Envy’, has either eight or six syllables in each line; however, the pattern in which the change in syllables comes about is regular within the sestains. The straightforward and seemingly simple way in which Blake has written ‘A Poison Tree’ contrasts with the very complex human emotions he is describing. Mary Lamb has written her poem rather differently, utilising complicated vocabulary and language skills so that the complex emotions fit very snuggly into the complex poem.

So, there we are; my comparative essay on ‘A Poison Tree’ and ‘Envy’. From my points mentioned above, we can see that there are far more similarities in the language part of the two poems than there are structure (of which there are few, if any). However, both poems carry the same basic message; communicate! So, it appears that the harder you look the less similarities you find, but if you look at the whole picture, they really aren’t that different.

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