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‘A Poison Tree’ by William Blake is a poem that explores a rather intense emotion, anger, and the consequences that it can have on the person who nurtured it and the one against whom it is nurtured.
About the Poet
William Blake, born in 1757 was an English poet, art enthusiast and printmaker. Although considered a significant figure of the Romantic period, he struggled to get recognition during his lifetime and he was often labeled insane. Blake’s poetry typically deals with themes revolving around religion, spirituality and the condition of beings. His most praised works include “Songs of Innocence and of Experience,” “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” and “Jerusalem.”
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.
The first stanza introduces the readers to the theme of the poem, anger. The speaker in the poem shares two different instances of anger, one towards a friend and one towards a foe. In the first two lines, the speaker who was angry with their friend instead of holding on to the anger, expresses it and addresses the issue. The anger dissipated, the wrath ended because the speaker communicated and there was a medium to solve the problem. This showcases the importance of communication and reinforces the idea behind the phrase “communication is key”. When the speaker got angry with a foe, an apparent enemy, instead of addressing it and resolving the conflict, the speaker remains silent and nurtured the anger.
And I waterd it in fears, Night & morning with my tears: And I sunned it with smiles, And with soft deceitful wiles.
The speaker shares how the anger required nurturing and they did so with their tears and fears. It shows that anger requires attention and effort to harbor. The phrase “night and morning” displays that the speaker was consumed by this anger and perhaps obsessed over it during day and night. The last two lines of the stanza tell the readers that anger turns a person into a deceitful being who uses manipulation. Although the speaker hates the foe and is angry, they smile at the person and warm them with lies and gambits.
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.
The speaker reveals how the anger grows with each passing moment, whether it is day or night, the feelings only get intense as time passes. Eventually, it comes to a point, where the anger grows fully and bears an apple. The poet compares anger to a tree, just like a tree is watered and nurtured and it bears ripe fruits, the poison tree too that is a result of anger bears a fruit. The apple is a symbol of the speaker’s anger and revenge.The foe sees the apple and is aware that it is a result of the speaker’s resentment, the lines reveal that the speaker’s anger is no longer concealed, rather it has become outward and apparent.
And into my garden stole, When the night had veild the pole; In the morning glad I see; My foe outstretched beneath the tree.
The concluding stanza reveals the consequence of this anger. When it was nighttime, the foe entered the speaker’s garden without permission; the line “And into my garden stole,” indicates the ill intentions of the foe. However, things turn bad for the foe and it ends with the demise of the foe. The image of the foe dead and outstretched beneath the speaker’s poison tree satisfies the speaker and makes them happy. The speaker’s reaction to the death of their foe emphasizes the destructive nature of revenge and anger.