What are key images and the theme used in William Blake's A Poison Tree?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...

What are key images and the theme used in William Blake's A Poison Tree?

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 watered it in fears
Night and 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 veiled the pole;
In the morning, glad, I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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William  Blake’s poem “A Poison Tree” offers an important lesson about anger.  This contemplation on the nature of rage provides two ways of handling it.

The Poison Tree" consists of four sets of rhyming couplets. Each stanza continues into the next, giving the poem a bitter, suspicious tone. The point of view is first person with the poet as the speaker.

The first stanza explains how we treat our friends and enemies.  Appropriately, when the speaker was angry with his friend they discussed the problem,  and the friendship continued. On the other hand, he was angry with someone that he considered an enemy, and he held the anger inside, and his anger worsened.

The second stanza explains what he did with his resentment toward his enemy. What did do with his anger? Using a metaphor to represent his anger as though it is a plant,  the speaker cultivated it, cried about it, and became deceitfully cunning. The speaker is laying a trap for his adversary, tempting him to desire something that seems alluring but is harmful. The poet's false smiles like sunshine serve to accentuate the growth of the plant

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 third stanza continues his thought about harboring anger. His irritation grows continually.  The metaphor extends into the anger actually becoming a tree that blooms.  Finally, it gives birth to an idea in the form of a symbolic apple.  These evil tricks now become reality to the poet.  Using his cunning, the speaker shows the apple to the enemy, and he admires it. However, he  also knows that it does not belong to him,

The final stanza portrays the depths of the poet’s anger in luring the man to his death. The enemy crept into the garden at night.  In the morning, the poet happily finds his enemy  dead beneath the tree because the apple was poisoned.

Blake’s poem is a morality lesson.  If a person  becomes angry, do not harbor it.  Talk to the other person.  If not, the anger will grow until not only does the person seek vengeance; but the person becomes obsessed and poisons himself with deceit and false friendship. Remember also that the enemy was just as deceitful because he was trying to the steal the apple. 

Obviously, with the tree and the apple Blake relates this issue to the fall of man in the Garden of Eden.  Man was deceitful and tried to bypass the will of God.  Adam and Eve learned that it is not possible to lie to God.  Man has suffered the consequences since that time.

The obvious moral of this poem is that hidden wrath becomes more treacherous. Ironically, Blake opposes the established idea that anger should not be expressed and illustrates the effect this has on the human soul.



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