A Poison Tree by William Blake
Table of Contents
A Poison Tree belongs to Blake’s Songs of Experience, published in one volume with Songs of Innocence in 1794.
Title of Blake’s Poem, A Poison Tree
The original title of the poem was Christian Forbearance. That title is indicative of the character of the poem as a fable, directed against self-restraint. The poem from that angle seems to suggest that it is dangerous to thwart natural impulses. Anger, unnaturally restrained, only to be nurtured in secrecy, produces the apple of hate, which is poisonous and destructive. The poem brings out how the bitter venom of enmity is fostered and eventually causes disaster. The title is justified from this very viewpoint.
A Poison Tree Summary
Stanza 1 :
I (the poet) was angry with my friend. As I told him my wrath, it ended. I was angry with my foe, but I did not tell that, and my wrath grew.
The poet’s wrath : The poet was angry with his friend. But he frankly expressed his wrath, and was reconciled to him. But he did not, however, give vent to his resentment to his foe, and allowed his wrath to grow.
Stanza 2 :
In fears, I watered it (my wrath), night and morning, with my tears. I sunned it with smiles and soft deceitful wiles.
Stanza 3 :
It grew both day and night till it bore a bright apple. My foe beheld it to shine and knew that that was mine.
The poet’s secret nourishment of his wrath : The poet cherished his wrath against his foe constantly out of fear. He pretended and tempted him. The foe was, drawn to the poisonous element, nurtured by him, and wanted to possess that out of jealousy.
Stanza 4 :
When the night had veiled the Pole, he stole into my garden. In the morning, I was glad to see my foe outstretched beneath the tree.
The dreadful effect of the poet’s wrath : The foe’s secret effort to possess that poisonous element resulted in disaster and brought about his death. Of course, the poet was glad to find his foe dead.
A Poison Tree Theme
A Poison Tree, a simple poem, contains a serious thought. The poem reflects on the bitter effects of the suppressed feeling of enmity. The secretly nurtured grievance and the hypocritical show of friendship lead to dangerous consequences. This theme is well illustrated through the poet’s dealing with his foe. He nurses his grudge against his foe, poses friendship, tempts him and succeeds in poisoning and destroying him. What is emphasized here is that suppression merely nurtures the poison tree.
A Poison Tree Analysis
William Blake’s A Poison Tree is a sort of fable in verse. It contains a meaningful moral underneath its simple story. As a poem, included in Blake’s Songs of Experience, it bears out his serious vision of human sin and suffering. At the same time, it has his simple, sensuous and sonorous technique.
The theme of the poem is about the poisonous effect of envy and enmity. This is brought out through the simple account of the speaker’s suppressed wrath, his hypocritical friendship with his foe and the latter’s ultimate death in his attempt to steal the poisonous apple, grown in his garden.
This is the simple fable of a poison tree which the poem presents But Blake’s fable has a two-fold inner significance. First, it indicates the wrong impact of the suppression of the natural impulse (even of wrath) Wrath, thus concealed, grows under the fostering care of fear and suspicion and vitiates the whole mind. Second, spite and enmity debase human nature, sour it at the root and set at naught all human feelings and considerations.
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Blake’s simple poem, thus, carries some deeper thoughts of life. It exposes the seamy side of human nature. Fear, suspicion, hatred, cruelty, hypocrisy and many other ills often dominate human nature, damn it and deviate it from the Christian way of living. Blake’s poem has a psychological implication here and subtly suggests the loss of Christian piety and humanity under the passion of wrath, the meanness of pretence and the poison of envy.
Blake’s poem, however serious its contention may be, is framed in a simple manner. He tells his story in the model of a fable with a simple diction as far as possible. His style is here unique, for his matter is serious but manner wonderfully simple. His analogies are quite meaningful, but they never appear mystical or intricate. The very poison tree is conceived with rare simplicity, although it well exposes the sad aspects of human failing and suffering. Blake’s thoughts here, as already emphasized, are deep, but he gives them out with utmost case.
Blake’s imagery in the poem is also extremely precise but clear. The picture of an apple bright of the poison tree or of the night that had veiled the pole’ may be specifically mentioned in this connection. The concluding picture-my foe outstretched beneath the tree is admirably vivid, though sad.
Blake’s verse has the ring of a child’s song. The poem is divided into four stanzas of four lines each. The lines are found to rhyme in couplets.
In short, A Poison Tree signifies how a profound and meaningful criticism of life can be conveyed through the simple and melodious poetry of childhood.
A Poison Tree Line by Line Analysis
I was angry with my friend– the speaker (or, the poet) for some reason became annoyed with his friend.
I told my wrath– he spoke out his feeling of anger.
My wrath did end– his wrath came to an end because it was given an outlet. N. B. The lines bear the implication than the impulse even of wrath should be given out.
I was angry with foe– next the speaker had the reason to have some resentment against his foe.
I told it not-he did not give it out.
My wrath did grow– his anger grew, as it was not given vent to. N. B. Blake implies here the growth of the venom of envy for the suppression of the natural impulse of wrath.
I was angry…… did grow-two opposite sides are given here. First the speaker got angry with his friend. Second, he had some grievance against his foe. In the first case, he spoke out his mind and was reconciled to his friend. In the second case, his resentment was concealed and it grew and possessed his mind.
N. B. Note the simple, fable-like beginning of the poem. The poem is truly a fable in verse.
Stanza II :
I watered it with fears-the speaker nursed his wrath with his fear about the motive of his foe. N. B. The imagery here is of gardening
Night and morning- continuously.
With my tears– tears of curse and vengeance.
I sunned it with smiles-he warmed up his wrath with a smiling face. His smiling face served to conceal his spiteful heart.
With soft deceitful wiles-with submissive hypocrisy.
And I watered…… wiles-the growth of the poison tree of envy and enmity is finely signified here. The speaker cherished and fostered his wrath with care. His fear and suspicion about his enemy’s motive turned him more vengeful and whetted his passion of wrath further. He then put on a mask of friendship to deceive his foe. He concealed his vengeful passion under the cover of his smiling face and friendly manners.
N. B. The entire process of the growth of hate is briefly and finely brought out. The imagery used here is taken from gardening. This has served to add to the fable character of the poem.
Stanza III :
It– this actually refers to the passion of wrath. This is represented as a tree.
Both night and day-all through.
It grew……night-the poison tree of wrath grew continuously.
Till it…..bright-the tree bore a lively, attractive apple. N. B. The bright apple, of course, indicates here the attractive semblance of a poisonous interior. This has, no doubt, a reference to the story of man’s fall in the Garden of Eden under the lure of the bright fruit of the forbidden tree.
And my shine– the brightness of the apple attracted the foe. It was actually a bait for him.
He knew…. mine-this simple line has a deeper sense. The foe saw the apple which belonged to the speaker and made up his mind to rob him of it. N. B. The deep-rooted enmity is here implied. Neither the Speaker nor his foe could cast away the feeling of enmity. The speaker said a secret trap for him, while he planned to steal his fruit. The line has psychological implication to indicate how man remains inwardly malicious, Vindictive.
And into my garden stole-the foe entered the speaker’s garden secretly. N. B. This is clearly indicative of the close design of the foe to do mischief to the speaker. When the night…..pole-in the dead hour of the night when darkness had spread over the pole : what the speaker implies is the darkness of night. In the morning glad I seethe speaker was glad to find in the morning.
My foe……. free-the foe was lying dead beneath the poison tree. N. B. The speaker was glad to find the foe dead. His close design was fulfilled. He was exultant to triumph over his enemy.
And into my garden…… beneath the tree-the enemy entered the speaker’s garden secretly in the darkness of the night and stole the bright but poisonous apple of the tree. The foe took the apple and became dead. He was poisoned by his own poisonous intention. The speaker’s purpose was served. He could deceive his foe by his friendly pose and tempted him to do damage to him. The foe actually fell into his trap and met a disastrous end.
N. B. The conclusion is well directed to derive the moral of the poem. It reveals the disastrous effect of envy and enmity. Both the speaker and his foe entertained hostility to each other. They made a show of friendship, but did not cast off their spite. The speaker laid a trap for the foe who, out of his eagerness to do mischief to him, fell into it and was destroyed. Both of them were subjected to the dreadful venom of envy and enmity and divorced from all Christian piety and humanitarian sympathy.
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