A discussion on the poem ‘A  POISON TREE’

Let’s discuss the poem you need to study – “A Poison Tree” by William Blake

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.

William Blake

Form and Structure-This poem has been written in four quatrains. This is one of the simplest poetic forms.  Each stanza has a pair of rhyming couplets- aabb. (friend-end; foe-grow; fears-tears; smiles-wiles; night-bright; shine-mine; stole-pole; see-tree).

Language-Overall, the vocabulary is simple. Most of the words in the first stanza are mono syllables. All the lines in the first stanza begin with “I”. This emphasizes that there is something personal and told from an individual point of view.

Understanding the poem:

Stanza 1 opens with how the persona was angry with his friend. He told his friend about his anger and the anger then disappeared. The persona then goes on to describe a scenario when he was angry with his enemy. He did not tell his enemy that he was angry, thus, his anger kept on growing!

In stanza 2, the persona talks more on how his anger grows. He compares his growing anger to a growing plant where he waters the plant with his fears and his tears. However, he did not give it real sunshine. He merely gives smiles and deceitful wiles. A wile is a cunning trick. Here, it suggests that he may be planning some sort of a devious scheme for his enemy- and this deceitful scheme is just like the sunshine for the growing plant.

Stanza 3 describes how the persona’s efforts eventually bore fruit. The fruit is the apple bright. The enemy clearly recognises that the fruit belongs to the persona.

Stanza 4 reveals that the enemy had seen the apple and stole it. The enemy had stolen the apple during the night when it was dark as the “pole” – the North Star was all covered up. Thus, the star was not visible-to guide the enemy out of the danger. The enemy eats the apple and most probably – he dies.

Metaphor-A growing apple tree is an extended metaphor for the growing anger and it shows how destructive anger can be. The title “A Poison Tree” is the central metaphor. The apple has become poisonous as it has been nurtured with anger. In other words, the tree grew with negative emotions. When we stay angry for a long time, we may become “A Poison Tree” (a person full of negative emotions).

 Setting-The persona’s garden. The garden where the apple tree grows. The apple tree that features the apple which lures the enemy.

Symbolism-The apple represents anger. The apple grows large till it ripens. Similarly, anger grows till it becomes vengeance.

Themes:

Managing Anger:  It is not totally wrong to be angry. However, it is rather important for us to know how to deal with anger. If we nurture our anger, it might grow and be harmful to us. In this poem, two ways of handling anger were shown with different outcomes. In the first scenario, the anger disappeared but in the second the anger grew into something aggressive and negative.

 Importance of Communication:  As shown in the poem, if the persona had communicated with his enemy, his anger would have been controlled. However, his refusal to communicate has allowed anger to become something that is very destructive. Therefore it is often better if we can communicate with people on the issues that is bugging us. The poet indirectly is trying to persuade his readers to talk about their anger. We can talk about it not only with our friends but with our enemies too. If we talk, the anger might just reduce and it might just ease our troubles. In turn, it will prevent us from causing hurt unto others.

 Moral Value

The poem tells us about the disastrous consequences of one’s own failure to communicate with another person.

Discussion

The persona could be intentionally helping his anger to grow by refusing communication with his enemy or perhaps he is unconsciously helping his anger to grow as his tears are actually tears of sorrow. This poem was written by William Blake and published in 1794 as part of his “Songs of Experience” collection. The poem describes repressed feelings of anger towards someone where the emotions lead him to murder. Perhaps the poet is exploring the darker side of human beings. When the enemy eats the fruit, he dies and the poet seems to be happy. The apple is the symbolic representation of his unreleased anger. The anger that blossoms into a poisoned fruit. We should ponder on whether this anger has attracted the enemy and in turn has lured him into the garden. Perhaps the enemy has unresolved issues with the owner of the garden and that is the reason for him to try and trespass the garden with the intention of settling the issues – in this case- by stealing the apple that has eventually poisoned him. Looking at another angle; considering the fact that William Blake was a religious man, with biblical reference- Adam and Eve was told not to eat the apple. Eating from the tree was the first sin! Perhaps, that’s the reason for Blake to use an apple tree as his central metaphor.