A Poison Tree, William Blake, Analysis & Summary

Overview: William Blake was not only a poet but also an artist whose unique vision is evident in his poetry. His poem "A Poison Tree" is a prime example of his ability to delve into the human psyche. While he belongs to the Romantic era, he did not write poetry solely for the sake of it. Rather, he used his poetry as a means of conveying important messages and exploring the world of human nature, psychology, and emotions. Although Blake did not achieve much fame during his lifetime, his innovative use of language and themes related to spirituality in his poetry gained recognition after his death. He is known for two famous collections of poems: Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.

Table of Contents
A Poison Tree: Poem Text

I was angry with my friend;
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
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.

And it grew both day and night.
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine.

And into my garden stole,
When the night had veild the pole;
In the morning glad I see;
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

Stanza-wise Analysis

"A Poison Tree" by William Blake is a powerful and metaphorical poem that explores the nature of anger and the destructive consequences that can result from it. The poem is divided into four stanzas, each building upon the previous one to create a narrative that is both visceral and thought-provoking.
The first stanza sets up the central theme of the poem - the nature of anger and the different ways it can be expressed. The speaker describes being angry with both a friend and a foe, but handling those emotions in different ways. When they express their anger to their friend, it dissipates and the conflict is resolved. However, when they keep their anger towards their foe bottled up, it only grows stronger.
The second stanza introduces the metaphorical language of the poem. The speaker compares their anger towards their foe to a plant that they water and nurture with their tears and deceitful smiles. The use of the metaphor of a plant is particularly effective, as it suggests the idea of something growing and developing over time, until it reaches a point of maturity.
The third stanza continues with the plant metaphor, describing how the anger has grown to the point where it has produced an "apple bright". This is another powerful metaphor, as it suggests the idea of something attractive and alluring on the surface, but ultimately poisonous and dangerous.
Finally, in the fourth stanza, the consequences of the speaker's anger are revealed. Their foe sees the "apple bright" and is drawn to it, only to be killed by its poison. The poem ends on a chilling note, with the speaker looking upon their dead foe with satisfaction and relief.
Overall, "A Poison Tree" is a powerful and evocative poem that uses metaphorical language to explore the destructive consequences of anger. The poem's central message is that when we allow our anger to fester and grow, it can become an all-consuming force that ultimately harms ourselves and those around us. The poem is particularly effective because it uses simple and accessible language to convey a complex and challenging idea, making it a timeless work of literature that continues to resonate with readers today.

Summary & Explanation

The speaker starts by saying that when they were angry with their friend, they told their friend about it and the anger went away. However, when they were angry with their enemy, they did not tell them and instead nurtured the anger with tears and fake smiles. The anger grew and grew until it bore an apple, which the enemy saw and knew was the speaker's. The enemy then snuck into the speaker's garden at night, and in the morning, the speaker was glad to see their enemy dead under the tree.

The poem is about the destructive nature of anger and how it can consume a person if not expressed or dealt with properly. The speaker's anger towards their enemy grows and grows until it leads to violence and death. The poem also touches upon the theme of deception, as the speaker uses "soft deceitful wiles" to hide their true feelings from their enemy. Ultimately, the poem serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of allowing anger to fester and grow unchecked.

Major Themes of the Poem

Major Themes of "A Poison Tree" by William Blake:

The Destructive Power of Anger: Blake explores the destructive power of anger and how it can cause harm to both the individual and those around them. The poem shows how anger can grow when it is not communicated and resolved, leading to dangerous consequences.
Importance of Communication and Forgiveness: The poem highlights the importance of communication and forgiveness in resolving conflicts. The speaker's anger towards his friend dissipates after he talks about it with him, while his anger towards his foe intensifies due to lack of communication.
Human Nature and Emotions: Blake delves deep into human nature and emotions, presenting the universal nature of negative emotions like anger, jealousy, and the desire for revenge. He suggests that these emotions should be acknowledged and controlled before they cause harm.
Use of Metaphorical Objects: Blake uses various metaphorical objects like the tree and poison to convey the themes of the poem. The tree symbolizes anger and the poison symbolizes revenge. The use of metaphorical language adds depth and complexity to the poem.
Covert Behavior: The darkness in the poem represents the covert behavior of the speaker in nurturing his anger and desire for revenge. The poem suggests that such behavior can be dangerous and harmful.

Symbols in “A Poison Tree” by William Blake

William Blake's poem “A Poison Tree” is rich in symbolic language. Here are some of the important symbols used in the poem:

The Poison Tree: The title of the poem itself is a symbol for anger and the desire for revenge. The tree grows continuously, representing the unchecked growth of negative emotions. The fruit of the tree is full of poison, symbolizing the destructive consequences of holding onto anger.
The Garden: The garden is both an image and a symbol for the place where the tree grows. It represents the poet's mind, where the tree of anger and revenge takes root and is nurtured.
The Apple: The apple is a symbol of the fruit of the poisonous tree. It is the means by which the enemy is destroyed, and it symbolizes the unintended consequences that can result from unchecked anger and revenge.
The Night: The night symbolizes covertness, as the enemy comes secretly to the garden and eats the fruit, leading to his death.

Stylistic Analysis

Here's a stylistic analysis of the poem "A Poison Tree" by William Blake:

Rhyme scheme: The poem is written in quatrains with an AABB rhyme scheme. This regularity creates a sing-song effect that contrasts with the dark and violent content of the poem.
Metaphors: The use of metaphors (Related: How to Use Metaphors) is pervasive throughout the poem. The tree is a metaphor for anger, the apple for the consequences of anger, and the garden for the mind or soul. The speaker uses these metaphors to create a vivid picture of the growth of anger and its destructive potential.
Repetition: The repetition of the phrase "I was angry with" at the beginning of each stanza emphasizes the speaker's emotional state and underscores the poem's central theme of anger.
Imagery: The use of vivid imagery (Related: Master the Art of Imagery) helps to convey the emotional intensity of the poem. For example, tears are described as "watering" the tree, and the enemy is described as being "outstretched beneath the tree," which creates a disturbing image of violence and death.
Personification: The tree is personified throughout the poem, as it is said to "grow" and "bear" fruit. This personification helps to emphasize the sense that the tree is a living thing that is fueled by the speaker's anger and desire for revenge.
Enjambment: The poem makes use of enjambment, with several lines carrying over from one stanza to the next. This creates a sense of momentum and urgency that helps to build tension and suspense.
Overall, the stylistic features of "A Poison Tree" work together to create a powerful and memorable poem that explores the destructive potential of anger and the importance of forgiveness and communication.
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