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Terence, this is stupid stuff

Terence, this is stupid stuff

by A.E. Housman

Poison

Symbol Analysis

The whole last stanza of this poem is about a fiendish plot to poison King Mithridates. We don't learn anything about why they want him dead, but we get plenty of images of the attempted poisoning itself. At the same time, Mithridates uses poison (carefully) to protect himself from his enemies. So, paradoxically, poison is both the threat and the cure in this poem.

  • Line 62: Terence makes it sound like kings were getting poisoned all over the place in the ancient East. More importantly, this line makes poison into a metaphor for all the problems we encounter in life. Our troubled world is full of the bitter poison of sadness.
  • Line 66: Mithridates turns poison into medicine by taking just a little at a time. Following the metaphor here, Terence is suggesting that you can make sadness into happiness by taking just a little bit of it at a time, almost like a vaccination.
  • Lines 73-74: The image of the poisoners getting a taste of their own evil medicine is the last thing we see in this poem. It's a pretty graphic scene, too, with the bad guys shaking and turning white while the king is just sitting pretty.
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