What is the speaker's attitude in "A Poison Tree" by William Blake?

Blake's speaker in "A Poison Tree" employs diction that indicates a tone of justification for feelings of anger and spite. "The Poison Tree" is an excellent example of how diction can be used to establish tone.

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In “A Poison Tree,” the speaker is most certainly vengeful – he speaks of nurturing anger, not of expressing it but of letting it fester within him, allowing it to grow by giving to it the elements of his sinister plotting – “…smiles/and soft, deceitful wiles.” He is thus appearing to a “foe” as if he were a friend, planning all the time a way to get back at this person for some undefined fault.

The contrast should be mentioned between how the speaker reacts to anger at a friend versus anger at a foe – in the first verse he voices his ire at a friend, and the ire therefore dissipates. However, because he doesn’t have the same relationship with his foe as with his friend, he says nothing about his anger and instead allows the nature of their relationship to kick-start this evolution of anger into revenge.

In the third stanza, Blake writes, “And it grew both day and night,/Til it bore an apple bright.” This apple is the physical representation of the nefarious acts born from wrath, and which poisons not only the victim of the revenge, but the tree from which it springs forth – in this case, the speaker himself. This is illustrated definitively at the end of the poem, when the speaker is “glad” to find his “foe outstretched beneath the tree.” If we interpret this to mean that his foe has taken the poisoned apple, has been deceived by the speaker’s cunning vengeful plot, and has been killed as a result, we can then assume that the speaker’s character has indeed been poisoned, for he rejoices in the death of another man -- moreover, a death of the speaker's own invention.

The poem therefore notes the terrible transformation that stems from burying one’s emotions rather than expressing them – by allowing one’s anger to turn to wrath, by nurturing it with guile and negativity, one will not only poison one’s relationships but oneself as well. 

As with most of Blake’s poems, there are many layers of symbolism within “A Poison Tree” – for more, and for the religious and historical context of this poem, check out the eNotes analysis page.

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In William Blake's poem ''The Poison Tree'', how does the author's use of diction convey the speaker's tone?

Let's define two terms before we consider their use in the poem: 

Diction: the choice and use of words and phrases in a text

Tone: the general character or attitude of a piece, carefully cultivated by the author

Now let's look at how Blake's diction conveys the speaker's tone: 

"my wrath did grow" : Blake begins the transition from speaking literally, as an emotion can grow or wane, to figuratively, transforming the wrath into a plant. His metaphor develops from his choice of the word "grow".

"I waterd it in fears, / Night & morning with my tears": Maintaining the plant metaphor, Blake describes nourishing a plant with water while simultaneously insinuating that this water, or his tears, have a darker purpose and meaning: fear. 

"And I sunned it...

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with smiles, / And with soft deceitful wiles": Continuing with the plant metaphor, Blake introduces a common comparison between smiling and sunshine. However, in this case, Blake's sunshine, or his smiles, are false in nature, or as he says, deceitful. 

"Till it bore an apple bright": The plant that Blake has been cultivating, his wrath, bears fruit, or is fulfilled (a common synonymous phrase would be 'comes to fruition'). The choice of an apple is particularly loaded with symbolic undertones given Blake's Christian background and the association of apples with sin in Christianity. 

"And into my garden stole, / When the night had veild the pole": Here, Blake first puts the reader on his side by characterizing his foe as someone evil who steals at night. Metaphorically, the foe seeks contact with the speaker's fully realized wrath. 

"In the morning glad I see; / My foe outstretched beneath the tree": The speaker's celebration is a bit disturbing given that he is glad to see his foe dead. The implications here are that the fruit of the wrath was poisonous, as negative emotions are wont to be, and that the speaker has triumphed over the foe. 

Therefore: Blake's speaker in the poem "A Poison Tree" uses a tone that is dark but justified, a tone cultivated by the metaphor of the speaker's wrath as a poisoned apple, nurtured by the speaker's resentment and stolen by the speaker's foe. 

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