Summarize the poem "A Poison Tree" by William Blake.

"A Poison Tree" is about the perils of holding onto anger. The speaker finds that anger toward a friend quickly evaporates, while resentment for an enemy continues to grow. He compares this lingering bitterness to a tree, which he nurtures until it bears fruit. The speaker is delighted when he one day finds his enemy, who was lured and presumably killed by the poisonous fruit, lying dead under the tree. Ultimately, the poem examines the destructive consequences of harboring resentment.

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"A Poison Tree" by William Blake is a wonderfully dark poem about the dangers of holding on to hate and anger. The dark nature of the poem is thrown off in feeling because of the poem's inherit fun sounding bounce. Blake does a really nice job of playing around with the iambic and trochaic rhythms in this poem, and it sounds bouncy and lively. Add to that the rhyming couplets, and it just sounds like a really lighthearted, fun poem. Think Dr. Seuss. He speaks deep universal truths about serious topics, but his rhymes and rhythms are still amazingly light and fun sounding.

The first stanza of the poem already presents readers with two different scenarios. The first couplet shows the narrator angry with his friend. He confesses the anger, and his anger ceases. The second couplet shows the speaker hanging on to his anger, and that causes the hate/anger/bitterness/etc. to grow. The second stanza then describes how the speaker nurtures and nourishes his growing anger. The third and fourth stanzas describe how the anger finally bore fruit, and the speaker used it to tempt and lure his enemy into a trap that ultimately killed him. The final couplet tells readers that the speaker was glad to see his enemy's death. The poem serves as a warning to people about the dangers of holding onto anger and grudges.

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“The Poison Tree” by William Blake provides a clear lesson on how to handle anger both with a friend and enemy.  The narration is first person point of view with a nameless speaker.

The poetic form has four quatrains with a set rhyme scheme: AABB.  This means that each quatrain has two couplets.  This rhyme scheme creates a simple and easy way to follow the flow of the poem.   It makes a powerful statement about how conflict should be handled. In his poem, Blake warns about the ill effects of holding malice inside oneself. The poem is a metaphor for what happens when one allows anger to grow within.


The first quatrain describes a friend getting angry at his friend.  Because the speaker knew and liked this person, he explained his feelings and the conflict was resolved. The anger ended.  On the other hand, the speaker clashed with a person that he did not like.  He held that irritation inside and did not express or tell the other person what was wrong. That resentment began to grow inside the speaker.

The second quatrain begins the extended metaphor with the comparison of the anger and the poison tree. Initiating the idea of the narrator cultivating his rage,  he  waters the budding tree with fear and tears every day and even the night. Still, the enemy does not know of this growing fury.  Fear can make a person act out of character and lose his emotional balance. Deceptively, the speaker employs his smiles as though it was the application of the sun to this toxic tree. With charm, he allows no interjection or awareness of his wrath. 

And I watered it in fears,
Night and morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.

The third quatrain nurtures the  tree/ire metaphor.  Anger poisons the human spirit; furthermore, it endangers the ability to use logical reasoning.  Finally, this tree bears the fruit of the narrator’s fury in the form of a beautiful, appealing apple as in the Biblical forbidden fruit.  The enemy desires the apple and realizes that it belongs to the speaker. 

The final quatrain brings the anger to an end; however, the narrator has lost his humanity.  He now is glad that the enemy is dead.  The fruit of his antagonism [the poison apple]  lured the enemy into the garden; he ate the apple; and now the foe has been eradicated.  The last couplet indicates that the narrator finds comfort in the death of the other man.

Blake uses the poem as a warning to those who harbor grudges and allow the feelings of resentment to stay inside without dealing with them. Communication becomes the only way to avoid the fruit of the poison tree.

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