W William Blake

A Poison Tree by William Blake

The poem ‘A Poison Tree,’ published in the year 1794, is one of the most wonderful and appreciated works of poetry by William Blake.

William Blake, poet to ‘A Poison Tree,’ was born on 28th November 1757. He was not only an English poet, but a visionary of his time, as well. He was also an excellent painter and printmaker. Art is what always attracted this poet. He belonged to the era of the Romantic Age. Most of his poems depict emotions and the consequences of the same. Although he was not very much recognized during his time, he turned out to be posthumous. He had always used his imagination to express the innermost emotions of the human race. Since he was, most of the time, in his own world of art, he was considered mad during his time.

The poem ‘A Poison Tree’ is one of the most wonderful and appreciated works of William Blake. It was published in the year 1794 in his collection of Songs Of Experience, which talks about various emotions of humans. ‘A Poison Tree’ forces you to look deep down inside your own self. It makes you ask a question to yourself – you often forgive your friends; would you ever forgive an enemy?

‘A Poison Tree’ is an important part of Songs Of Experience, which was a follow up to William Blake’s Songs Of Innocence, published in the year 1789. Both the books were later brought together and published under the title of Songs Of Innocence And Experience, Showing The Two Contrary States Of The Human Soul: The Author and Printer, W.Blake. Although Blake focused on the hidden emotions of humans, his poetry works did not get much fame all his life.

‘A Poison Tree’ was individually published in the London University Magazine, in the year 1830. Although the original title of the poem was Christian Forbearance, the name was later changed to give a better idea of what the poem was all about. The poem has four sets of rhyming couplets. Each stanza remains continued to the next, and gives the poem a hurried, almost furtive tone that matches the secretive deeds carried out in the darkness of the poem’s content.

A Poison Tree By William Blake


Structure

‘A Poison Tree by William Blake has four different stanzas. It starts as a first-person poem, where the poet is expressing his anger and hatred towards his enemy. The poem then takes a turn and ‘I’ is replaced with the word ‘It’, a pronoun to depict the feelings of the enemy.

The poet has used a metaphoric style. For instance, apple depicts his vengeance; tree depicts his loss of patience, underneath which he kills his enemy, etc. Besides, Blake also makes use of end rhyme to really drive the message home. As in the first, second, third, and fourth lines of the poem’s first para, you can see ‘friend’ and ‘end’, both at the end of their respective lines, rhyme, and likewise does ‘foe’ and ‘grow’.

Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

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.

The poet is not only expressing his anger towards his friend as well as his foe in this stanza, but he has also depicted the difference between two types of anger. He states that when you are angry with a friend, you convince your heart to forgive him. Even though you are hurt and you know that he did injustice to you, you try your best to forget the past and end the feeling of vengeance in your heart.

On the other hand, when you are angry with an enemy, it takes ages for you to calm your anger. Yet, the anger and the feeling of vengeance do not diminish, even with time. In fact, the vengeance simply grows.

Stanza Two

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

The poet is making a confession in this stanza of ‘A Poison Tree’ – it is he, who is solely responsible for the hatred that has grown in his heart for his enemy. It is he, who has increased the vengeance in his heart. He has nurtured the hatred with his fears, spending hours together, crying for the ill that has been caused to him by his enemy.

He has also nurtured the hatred with his sarcastic smiles, imagining ill and cursing his enemy to go through the same or worse sufferings that he has been through.

Stanza Three

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 poet states that it is because of his dwelling in the same hatred, that it has grown every day. The hatred gave birth to an apple. The fruit signifies the evil that has taken birth in the heart of the poet. He states that he has now come to a point from where he can’t turn back and forget about his enemy until he does something to soothe his vengeance.

Finally, the day comes when the poet’s enemy has met the evil fruit of vengeance, that he has grown with his fears, tears, and sarcasm. The fruit has now turned into a weapon. When the enemy confronts this anger, it is time for the weapon to serve the purpose that it has been made for.

Stanza Four

And into my garden stole.
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see,
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

And, so the poet states, the very next morning, the purpose is served. When the poet wakes up and glimpses in the garden, he sees something that relaxes his mind and calms his vengeance forever. The darkness of the night acted as an invisible cloak for the poet. Now, it is a beautiful morning.

There he is; his enemy, dead under the tree of his hatred. He bit the poisoned apple of his vengeance. He is murdered.

Personal Commentary

Anger is one of the most aggressive emotions that we all possess as humans. And why only humans, this emotion is possessed by all the living beings; even the animals are seen fighting with rage and anger on the streets and in the woods.

In ‘A Poison Tree,’ the poet has clearly stated his anger and feeling of vengeance in his heart. He has forgiven his friend, but he hasn’t and will never forgive his enemy for the wrongs that he has done and the hurt he has caused to him. He remembers every little thing that he has wrongly done to put him down and hurt him terribly.

The poet clearly says that he has himself not forgiven his enemy, even though he could. He has made sure that he doesn’t forget all the wrongs that he has been done because he has suffered enough due to his foe. At first, he may have tried to forget about all that has been caused to him, but with the growing time, the hatred in his heart developed and he kept dwelling in the same vengeance.

Finally, the feeling of anger has shaped up and now he can do anything to make his enemy suffer and pay for his Karmas. However, the poet does not even wish to wait for the justice of Karmas; he wishes to put an end to his vengeance by murdering his enemy on his own, and so he does. He kills or murders his enemy in the end and gets back, his peace of mind.

Thus, Blake’s portrayal of an angry, bitter, wrathful, and cold atmosphere, and his use of symbolism, metaphors, diction, all show the deep level of seriousness rampant in the poem.

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Dharmender Kumar
About
Dharmender is a writer by passion, and a lawyer by profession. He has has a degree in English literature from Delhi University, and Mass Communication from Bhartiya Vidhya Bhavan, Delhi, as well as holding a law degree. Dharmender is awesomely passionate about Indian and English literature.
  • I Sincerely thank you, for the efforts you have made…🙂

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      you’re sincerely welcome!

  • Avatar Jerinhy Isobel Octa says:

    Can I ask the date of publication for this post??

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      3rd December 2015 (incidentally, my birthday!)

  • Avatar poetry girl says:

    I personally believe that the pole is the north star and NOT A WASHING POLE. we all need to understand this as it is very important. I repeat, it is talking about the NORTH STAR when it refers to a pole xoxo poetry gal

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Yeah that was one of my theories that he was referencing the North Pole. (or the northern star, but the two are almost so entwined as to be interchangeable, aren’t they?)

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Honestly it’s hard to say, really. It could be used to reference being near to the top or the bottom of the earth! But It could just mean a washing pole, most people in Britain have one in their garden.

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      You can get in touch with the site publisher via the contact page of the website.

  • I agree with your analysis Lee-James, and Anna McCourt. I am sick of reading analyses that put it down to self-hatred or a warning not to let things get out of hand. I think Blake is quite clear that he is glad that his enemy is dead. It takes a fair degree of contortion to believe otherwise here, I think.
    As for Blake being, perhaps, an INFJ, I am one and not all of us are “nice”! I see niceness as an affliction. I think I am a decent human being (as an INFJ) but I am totally opposed to niceness, having seen too much of the pain and suffering that causes to those who are. I think that is actually partly what Blake is warning us about!

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      I can’t even remember what I am on that test! Something to do with extroverted, creative type…I try not to box myself though 🙂

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