#2. "A Poison Tree"
There's anger, there's boiling rage, there's simmering, abiding hatred, and beyond all that sits an icy ball of preserved wrath. The speaker in "A Poison Tree" is the man that wrath dreams of one day becoming.
Thomas Phillips via Wikimedia
A quiet man who kept to himself.
About the Author:
There is so, so, so much badass poetry from William Blake, a guy so conscious that life's heartbreaks gave him fever dreams and so poetic that he turned those dreams into his own private religion. Which is why you should read "The Tyger" and realize that it's always the quiet ones.
But if you want to see why it's always the quiet ones, you have to read "A Poison Tree." When Loki writes his memoirs, "A Poison Tree" will be their epigraph.
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And the tears of 10 million Tom Hiddleston groupies will water the flowers at his grave.
I'm going to frame this one with Internet terms you recognize. Imagine that every Socially Awkward Penguin meme you ever saw was compressed into a single person. That person would explode into Courage Wolf and be known colloquially as William Blake -- a man so complex, his worldview gets its own appendix in physics textbooks. His work meditated on the transition from innocent naif to scarred but capable badass, just like you're doing right now by assuming your final form, teenagers!
John Linnell via Wikipedia
Here's how his best friend saw him.
If you mapped his beliefs starting with "Go, gnostic Lucifer!" and ending at "We are all God!" you'd run out of universe before you ran out of ink, and there'd be at least three crossovers with Doctor Who. Suffice it to say that this is a man who felt Dante's Divine Comedy wasn't complicated enough.
That cosmology is the entire basis for Red Dragon, meaning within the core of Hannibal Lecter lurks a Romantic poet buried at least three secret origins deep. And he saved his wrath for important targets that made life suck for people.
Oh, and he wrote a poem calling his wife selfish for not letting him tomcat around. Let's face it: It's a big world out there, and Willy Blake wasn't singing songs of experience in enough of it.
William Blake via Wikimedia
With his Willy Blake.
Now you know all the William Blake things. Here is the poem:
Why It's Cold-Blooded:
If you've ever hated -- if you've ever really hated someone, ongoing and even in your quiet, calm moments -- you understand this poem perfectly. In the fugue of rage, it's more important to hurt the other guy than to not be hurt yourself.
This poem has all of that rancor, plus self-control.
This man built a trap entirely of hate and pretending not to hate, which you might recognize as the Republican legislation strategy, but which I assure you is much more impressive in poetry. He aggravated his own misery, subsumed his own happiness, and denied his own identity in order to foster his enemy's demise. You think in your life that you've explored the terrain of hatred. William Blake draws maps of it, and in the unexplored corners he writes, "Beware, Here there be Me!"
William Blake via Wikipedia
God couldn't craft a Tyger without first imagining William Blake to meditate on it.
The first stanza is important because it makes it clear that Blake is not a fuck. Otherwise it would just be a poem about a guy who can't take the high road. Why are they enemies? We don't know. But in context, we know that Blake is a reasonable guy. Someone did him wrong, and he'd rather rectify matters. He airs his grievances and sets that balloon of anger out in the world to drift away beyond sight and choke the sea turtles of forgetfulness.
OK, second go: same setup. But now, this is not someone the speaker can be reconciled with. This enemy was never in the right. You go to him and make peace, he'll just keep on acting nine flavors of asshole in a bathroom that only seats three.
OK then. It is on like Don Juan's condom, son. You just gave the world's most powerful imagination cause to think of nothing but ways to destroy you. And this isn't just anger. This is WRATH. This is righteous, holy, over-the-top fury reserved for the Lord God himself, right down to the forbidden tree-based methodology.
John Linnell via Wikipedia
He's so conniving, a monocle actually makes him look LESS evil.
Does Blake attack him? No. He smiles, nods, and waits. He goes about his business. He plants a tree. Are these the actions of a man seeking vengeance, officer? These are the creative pursuits of an 18th century Englishman moving on with his life ... knowing that his happiness will infuriate his foe and draw him closer. Blake puts more revenge into 14 lines of gardening than most nations put into a century of war.
The enemy is poisoned by his own vice. Sure, Blake grew a poisonous apple from his misery. But if this guy -- let's call him Pat Boone, because that guy was the first person to ruin rock-and-roll -- hadn't relished Blake's misery, that would have been the end of it. And this is how we know that Pat Boone's an asshole -- all he had to do was leave a fellow alone.
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And not bleach the life out of "Tutti Frutti" like some kind of dickhead.
But no, Blake's wrath was irresistible to him, so he comes running to taste it. It's like that old saying: "You catch more flies with honey than vinegar, and then you poison the goddamn honey so no fly ever enters your house again."
#1. "My Last Duchess"
You know how Carrie would be a suburban fairy tale about a nerd who becomes prom queen if it stopped right there? But instead it keeps going to become a horrific rampage? This is like that. It's Beauty & the Beast if it stopped in the second act.
About the Author:
Robert Browning and his wife, Elizabeth, were two sensitive souls in utter awe of each other.
Thomas Buchanan Read via Wikipedia
Feel the heat radiating from these entangled stars.
This poem is about a dude nothing like that. He's a monster that walks like a man. It's the longest poem here, but I dare you to read it and not think of someone you feared in high school. (Perhaps Chad? It's always a Chad or a Dean.)
Why It's Cold-Blooded:
Whoa whoa whoa ... did that guy just whack his child bride for smiling too much? If I could sum up my ethos in three rules, it would be:
1) Don't date kids.
2) Don't kill anybody.
3) Don't crush happiness.
This guy breaks all of those rules with one command for a compounded result of 10 to the 14th screaming horrified power. When he reaches the moral bottom of humanity, he grabs a shovel and starts excavating the floor. Scholars are pretty certain the speaker is Italian duke Alfonso II d'Este, but I believe it's actually Vandal Savage. Who, in turn, is the speaker in the Rolling Stone's "Sympathy for the Devil."
All Vandal Savage does in comics is heal from mortal wounds and drink wine.
This champion of unprecedented greed couldn't stand that his servants received the same share of unconditional love as he did. It costs him nothing for her to be happy, but it offends him that his nobility fetches the same reward as a sunset. He wants to own everything, and he hates anything he can't possess. If he can't have it -- or if he has to share it -- a guy like this will always destroy it instead.
And on a deeper level, he hates that her innocent joy is beyond his grasp. He wouldn't understand real happiness if the Ghost of Christmas Past blew him on a roller coaster, so he destroys what he cannot possess. Some people (let's call them "our rulers") only understand the world in terms of what they can own.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images News/Getty Images
All that money and no dignity.
But it's also a reminder that most people don't know what they want, and money and power don't change that. So he fills his life with valuable possessions to impress people whose opinion he doesn't care about.
And the worst bit is that murdering or imprisoning his child bride for the crime of being happy is another objet d'art for him to flash, a way to impress somebody's servant with his power -- not even an equal of his! Also -- jokes or something go here. Make your own, because I'm too aghast.
But such is the spirit of man that the drive to own and control would rather snuff it. He'll take a mere echo of what she brought to the world because he can hide it for himself. He doesn't understand that it can be shared without losing value.
And now he is going downstairs to arrange his next marriage ...
Brendan didn't pay that much attention in English class, but he learned the meaning of "cold-blooded" writing about the Illuminati in Five Weird Search Terms You Used. But he'd much rather you enjoy his friend Karen's cooking blog.
Related Reading: Some poets made their name with plagiarism, but Brendan preferred to call it satire when he taught you how to write men's fiction by stealing from Cormac McCarthy.
For more real conversation for your ass, check out 18 Unexpected (and Real) Quotes by Famous Figures.