What is the tone of the poem "The Poison Tree" by William Blake?

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When we talk about the tone of a poem, we are assessing what the writer's attitude seems to be. How does the writer seem to feel about the situation he is describing—is he contemplative, outraged, wistful, sarcastic? How does the poem make you feel—does it radiate positivity or melancholy? There is an element of subjectivity in what we perceive the tone of a poem to be, but thinking about the attitude of the poet is a good place to start.

In Blake's poem "A Poison Tree," the tone is almost clinically detached and calculated, at odds with the poem's actual content. This is particularly, chillingly clear in the final two lines, when the speaker says he is "glad" to find his "foe outstretched beneath the tree."

Throughout the poem, there is a sense that the speaker is biding his time, patiently and intently watering his tree of wrath. The regular rhythm and structure of the poem, complete with the repetition of "And," adds to this ritualistic sense, as if the speaker is performing a kind of spell. The detached attitude of the speaker to such elements as "fears" and "deceitful wiles" is unsettling; the tone seems at odds with the ultimate outcome. This causes us to question whether there is judgment, potentially, underlying the poet's tone—is it ironic? Does he intend us to question and interrogate the attitude of this speaker whose approach to his "foe" is so cold?

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The poem "A Poison Tree" from William Blake's Songs of Experience is a poem about anger, vengeance, and, ultimately, death. The measured, rational tone of the poem belies the simmering rage just beneath the surface of the words. The poem has an AABB rhyme scheme and a regular meter both of which combine to give it a sing-song feeling. This sturdy structural framework grounds the speaker's intense emotions.

The poem begins with the lines, "I was angry with my friend;/I told my wrath, my wrath did end." That a poem about rage begins with such a logical, emotionally balanced statement, greatly influences the tone of the lines that follow. Rather than seeming like a crime of pure, crazed passion, the speaker's revenge appears to be planned and well thought out. He waters and suns his anger like a plant, carefully tending it to achieve his desired results. This choice of metaphor, tending to anger like a gardener to a tree, makes the speaker's anger appear cultivated and almost Machiavellian.

That the tone of the poem is so rational while the content is so violent only serves to make the poem's overall effect more sinister.

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William Blake's poem "The Poison Tree" depicts how anger manifests differently in individuals with regard to their friends and enemies. The speaker expresses how easy it is to forgive a friend and points out how his anger grows towards his enemy, who he does not forgive. The tone of the poem is furtive, ominous, and aggressive. The speaker confesses how he secretively allows his anger to grow and metaphorically compares it to a tree that bears a poisonous apple. The speaker sarcastically smiles and tricks his enemy while he continues to let his hate build. The reader can feel the tension growing and expects something bad to happen to the speaker's enemy. In the last stanza of the poem, the speaker's enemy dies after biting into the poisoned apple. Blake's poem expresses how manifested hate and bitterness can become lethal. The tone of the poem coincides with the speaker's furtive plans of vengeance, which eventually kill his enemy.

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That's a great question.

There is a layered or ambiguous tone to this poem.

The content of a work is, in some works, distinct from the tone. That isn't really the case here. The poem's content is marked by so many angry words--"wrath," "angry," "foe," etc. You can't help but hear part of the tone as, well, angry.


However, the tone itself is calmer, more distant, rational, and measured. The regularity of the rhyme, and the simplicity ("friend" and "end," "foe" and "grow," etc.) makes it more playful and singsong. The combination creates a tone of reflection, but also perhaps of denial and repression.

Take the narrator at his word: he hates this person, and considers him his enemy. If that's the case, then the ability to speak in so calm and measured a fashion means he is fundamentally divided, even hypocritical about his emotions.

 

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