What does the apple symbolize in the poem "The Poison Tree"?    

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lynnebh's profile pic

lynnebh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Do you remember the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden? When they ate the fruit from the forbidden tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, their eyes were opened, they realized they were naked, they hid from God and they were eventually banished from the Garden of Eden. In Blake's poem we read:

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 tree represents anger, which Blake believes is a type of deadly poison. If you take a bite from the poisoned apple, you will die. In this poem, the speaker did not resolve his anger with his foe, as he did with his friend. Resolved anger ended the anger between speaker and friend. The anger with the foe was not resolved (I told it not, and it did grow), so it grew into a shiny apple which when consumed by the foe, resulted in his death. The apple, then, represents the anger which was not resolved and then grew into something that caused death.

Eating fruit from a poisonous tree is a famous theme in literature, even fairy tales. Remember what happened to Snow White?

There is a deeper discussion of the religious theme and application of this poem here on eNotes. See if you agree with this analysis.

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teachersage | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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In "The Poison Tree," the apple has multiple meanings, representing "wrath," temptation and deception. 

The narrator of the poem tells the story of nursing an angry grudge against an enemy who has injured him. Rather than confronting his enemy, he buries the grudge and nurses it.

And I waterd it in fears, 
Night & morning with my tears: 
And I sunned it with smiles, 
And with soft deceitful wiles. 

This wrath then grows into an "apple:"

Till it bore an apple bright.
 
This apple of wrath then becomes temptation to the enemy:  
And my foe beheld it shine.
 
The persona telling the story has disguised his anger so well by pretending everything is fine that he deceives his enemy, who is lured in to his trap. Mistaking the persona for a friend, the persona's enemy enters his "garden." Here, instead of encountering friendship, he is poisoned by the "wrath" of his enemy.
 
The poem conjures the story of Eve tempted by Satan to eat the shiny fruit, often depicted as an apple, on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Satan does not have Eve's best wishes at heart, but full of wrath, like the persona in this story, wants to bring about her death. Tempted by Satan's lies, Eve eats the apple, just as the persona's "enemy" does. Because she and Adam (who also eats the apple) are driven from Paradise, they become mortal and die. 
 
Blake's poem warns us not to plant the "apple" of wrath or anger, for that leads to poisoned relationships and death. We need instead to deal with our anger instead of nursing resentments. 
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