Summary and Analysis of A Poison Tree by William Blake

In this article, you will read about introduction to the poet and poem, summary of A Poison Tree, analysis and critical appreciation of the poem, major themes in A Poison Tree, and Symbolism used by William Blake in the poem, A Poison Tree.

summary of a poison tree
A Poison Tree by William Blake

Introduction to the Author William Blake

William Blake was an English poet. He was born in London, England, on 28th November 1757.  Blake was not only an English poet, but a visionary poet of all ages. He lived during Romantic age and his works depict the age of that time. His work could not get fame during his life but later on he turned out to be a visionary poet of all the ages. He was against race discrimination and wrote for the equal rights. He also raised child labor issues in his writings and other major issues of his age in his poetry.

Introduction to A Poison Tree

A Poison Tree is a short poem and one of the most appreciated works of William Blake. Initially, this poem was published in his collection of Songs Of Experience in the year 1794. A Poison Tree is a descriptive poem that depicts human emotions and their consequences. This poem was published with the title A Poison Tree in 1830 in the London University Magazine. Although Christian Forbearance was its original title and later on it was changed to reflect better thoughts of the poet.

A Poison Tree is about the hatred and corrupted effects of anger towards others. In the poem, Blake shares his experiences with us that once he was angry with one of his friends and told him about the matter of annoyance. Consequently, the anger vanished away and both became friends again. In contrast, he tells that once he was angry over his enemy but he never told him about the matter, the anger kept growing in his mind against enemy and forced him to keep it hidden from his enemy. He symbolizes anger by a poison tree full of fruits which Blake’s enemy happens to steal and consequently dies.

Structure of the Poem

William Blake’s poem, A Poison Tree, has four stanzas with rhyme scheme AABB and each stanza having four lines. Poet also makes use of end-rhyme to make is full of artistic style.  Each stanza is based on two end-rhymed couplets. As in the first stanza, first and second lines end with rhyming words ‘friend’ and ‘end’ (AA). In the same way third and fourth line end with ‘foe’ and ‘grow’ (BB) that make perfect rhyming (AABB).

The poem is written in trochaic tetrameter catalectic that means that the meter used is the trochee: a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable, e.g. in the line ‘Till it bore an apple bright’ the stresses are as follows:

‘TILL it | BORE an| A pple | BRIGHT’

Trochaic tetrameter catalectic follows as | DUM da | DUM da | DUM da | DUM |

There are four feet in each line, hence tetrameter. But in trochaic tetrameter catalectic, the fourth feet contains single syllable or unstressed syllable is missing as in above line. Trochaic tetrameter catalectic meter gives the poem a clipped, even abrupt feel, which is reinforced by the short sentences and recurrent use of full stops.

Summary of  A Poison Tree

The poem, A poison tree in comprised on four stanzas. Here is stanza wise summary of A Poison tree for better understanding.

Summary of stanza 1

The poet says in first stanza that once he was angry with his one of the friends due to any reason and he told him clearly about it. By doing so, all his anger against his friend vanished away and again they became friends.

In second half of first stanza, poet narrates another experience that once he got angry with his one enemy and did not tell him about it. This time anger stared growing in poet’s mind.

In the first stanza, we come to know that how it is easy to reconcile with a friend if we clear doubts and misunderstandings. However, on the other hand, if we do not talk to someone when we are angry with him; anger and hate will keep growing in our mind against enemy.

Summary of stanza 2

In second stanza, poet elaborates his experience that he watered his anger every day and night in fears of disclosing it to his enemy. He also shed tears because of hate. Here poet wants to tell that he failed to give up his anger that causes him fear and tears. Wrath kept growing in poets mind by day and night because he feared to reveal it to enemy and in this way memory of ill-activity remained alive in his mind.

In the last two lines of second stanza, Blake says that he sunned his anger with smiles and soft deceitful wiles. Here poet symbolizes his anger as a tree which is as growing in his mind as tree grows in light of sun. In last line, poet says that the deceitful tricks (hiding anger) made the tree grow up in poet’s mind.

Summary of stanza 3

In third stanza, poet explains that the tree kept growing day and night and finally one day it became a full grown tree with a bright apple. “Bright Apple” depicts here something which attracts his enemy to eat it. However, deceitful tricks like deceit and hate made this bright apple fully grown and it is harmful for the enemy

Many critics compare this bright apple with the apple of the Heaven that was forbidden for Adam to eat as believed in Christian and Islamic Theology. Adam and Eve were attracted by Satan (Lucifer) to eat the forbidden apple but it caused a disaster in their lives and they were expelled from the Heaven. Here poet wants to tell that like Lucifer, he kept hidden his intentions and kept smile on his face that caused harm to his enemy.

Some critics refer this bright apple to some of written works of Blake which were stolen by one of his friends and caused shame for his friend latter on.

Summary of stanza 4

In last stanza poets tells about the consequences of that bright apple. Like Adam and Eve, the poet’s enemy stole the bright apple from the garden at night and ate it. Later on, in the morning, the poet is happy when he looks at his enemy lying dead under the tree. Here poet compare himself with Satan as Satan was also glad to see Adam and Eve being expelled from Heaven.

The message poet wants to covey is that anger and hatred make one like Satan and when he plans to take revenge for something bad done to him, one forgets the consequences. Morally, poet tells us that we should clear our misunderstanding until they become like a bright apple that can cause harm.

Analysis of A Poison Tree : Critical appreciation

The poem reveals the power of anger if not controlled at initial stage. Anger is an aggressive and dangerous emotion that we all possess as human beings. In the poem, Blake has stated clearly at the start that when we give up our anger, we can escape from drastic consequences of grown up anger. When poet forgives his friend, he saved himself as well his friend from the harm of the hatred.

When poet keep anger in his mind and it keeps growing by different ways elaborated in the poem cause deadly harm to the enemy of the poet. Instead of clearing doubts and grievances he remembered every little thing that he has wrongly done to put him down and harmed him dreadfully.

Blake clearly states that he intentionally did not forgive his enemy, even though he could. If first case, poet did so and saved his friend from the harm but he did not did so in case of enemy.

Poet tries to explain it by a Biblical reference that when Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat apple but Satan urged them to eat that apple that caused them to being expelled from the Heaven. In the same way, here poets states that if he did not save him his enemy, even though he could save. He did the same act as the Satan did in expelling them from the Heaven. Poet passed smile towards his enemy as Satan urged Adam and Eve politely by hiding internal enmity. And finally poet became glad when his enemy was stretched beneath the tree; he also followed Satan who became glad when Adam and Eve were expelled from the Heaven for eating forbidden apple.

The poem ‘A Poison Tree’ is one of the most striking explorations of the corrupting effects of wrath and hatred in English literature. Blake’s portrayal of anger, bitter, and wrath show the deep level of seriousness rampant in the poem. It is also one of William Blake’s miniature masterpieces.

Major Themes in the Poem

Major themes of the poem, A Poison Tree, are anger, hatred, and revenge. The poem explores the disastrous effects of unexpressed anger that causes to grow hatred. Blake as a visionary writer, dives deep into the darker side of human mind and tries to explain the harm that anger can do. He also explains in the start of the poem that it is quite easy to forgive someone before start of growing of hatred but when it starts to grow, its outcome is drastic.

Symbolism in the Poem

Symbolism is a literary device where something is used to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings different from literal meaning.

In this poem

·        Tree symbolizes wrath and anger or loss of patience.

·        Garden is the symbol of the heart where the hatred is natured.

·        Bright apple depicts vengeance.

About Authoress: The article “Summary and analysis of A Poison Tree” was written by Sayeda Javaria. You can reach her at javaria.hanan@gmail.com or view her profile at Sayeda Javaria Hanan .

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