“A Poison Tree” by William Blake is a poem of vengeance, anger, and murder. The poem provides two ways to handle anger: for a friend and a foe. However, the true subject of the poem is not the anger itself but the suppression of wrath and what it does to the person who harbors the fury and resentment.
The first stanza of the poem introduces the heart of the poem. The narrator had a friend with whom he was angry. Rather than keeping that anger inside, together the poet and his friend discussed the problem and solved the issue. The wrath was gone. Blake emphasizes the importance of communication. Of course, the difference in the approach to the anger come from the that the poet caring about his friend and not wanting to hold anything against him.
The next two lines take anger to a different level. In this instance, the narrator feels incensed by someone that he does not like and labels him as a foe. He felt rage toward him; consequently, the anger sits inside the man’s heart and begins to grow.
In the next stanza, the narrator becomes obsessed with his anger. He becomes fearful and overwrought. On the outside, he appears to be normal by smiling and using deceptive tricks. Now the man is no longer just angry, he has become fixated on this person and his fury toward him.
The man’s anger has grown so much that finally it symbolically grew an apple. His enemy saw the fruit and lusted for it, but he also knew that the apple belonged to the poet.
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…
Obviously, the narrator had a plan. Entice the man with the apple and make him want it. In the night, the enemy will go to the Poison Tree and eat the apple. The narrator expected this to happen, so he poisoned the apple.
The next morning the enemy is found dead from eating the poisonous fruit. Not only did the poet find the man dead, but, ironically, he was glad that the man had died. His happiness over the death of another human being is disturbing and indicates the extent of the man’s psychological stress.
Thematically, there is more to the poem than the basic idea of harboring and killing the enemy. Burying anger rather than acknowledging it, according to Blake’s philosophy, turns anger into a seed that will propagate. By cultivating the seed, nourished by the élan of the angry person, wrath grows into a caustic power.
The poem puts forth a biblical reference. The Garden of Eden had a tree called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The luscious fruit on the tree was forbidden by God for Adam or Eve to touch or eat the fruit because it belonged to him. Blake believed that the God of the Old Testament was a God of vengeance and his wrath was visited on anyone who disobeyed him. To Blake, the angry man in the poem represents the God of the Old Testament who punished his creations when they displeased him.