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A Poison Tree

William Blake

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Added by: Simon Moon
What's more interesting than 'A Poem Tree' itself is what of the poem the reviewers on this site have exemplified.
Get over yourselves
Added by: JustAComment
What gives any of you the right to diss anyone elses view? Who cares if theres a few spelling mistakes in someones opinion?! I dont know about any of you are doing on this site but Im not here to pick at other peoples grammer, Im here to look at interpretations and see other peoples views.. isnt one of the great things about poetry the fact that we see things differently? so Allan, Shamus, Jack, Mike, and Johnjohn this is for you - if you havent got anything productive or interesting to say, dont say anything at all because I for one dont want to hear it and insults are just unnecessary! Apologies for any SPG mistakes in this - I know its an issue for some of you. For the rest of you, sorry to waste your time.
Added by: Gevennah
I agree with everyone with the suppressed point of view. And it is a very good point, and a very good subject to write about in poetry. However I feel that this poem is rather elementary and it bores me. But that is just my opinion, everybody has a certain style of poetry they like and who am I to say you're wrong, and that my style of poetry is better. Just because I find it boring doesn't mean it isn't a good poem.
wut i think
Added by: oracle
i think this poem is a great! the way he uses the bible to make ppl reflect on there lives
An Inspiration
Added by: Layal
When i first found out we have to analyze a poem, i thought it would be boring! However, i chose "A Poison Tree" and i had fun reading it and it is a true work of art. I believe that this shows anger and pressure can lead to damage. i would recommend everybody to read this poem
A Poison Tree
Added by: Lindsey
I enjoyed this poem and I think the apple symbolizes hate. His "foe" didn't die of a psychical apple but because of the feelings of the speaker in the poem he killed him. But I think the point would be go back to the first stanza, because just for not talking to his foe it all led of to the foe's death. This can go for anybody. Maybe not death but people's feelings of not telling somebody something can just go to an extreme until you do something you would regret.... Alright thanks for actually reading this if anybody did.
Added by: Lula
in his original manuscript Blake titled this poem 'Christian Forebearance'. Blake was himself a devout and committed christian, but had his own seriously weird set of beliefs. Blake totally distrusted what we would now call organised religion. Blake believed that for most 'christians' of his time their religion was just an excuse for them to feel better than other people and to give them justification for letting all their own bigotry and prejudices out while suppressing everyone else's.

[you notice how much christianity has changed since blake's time.]

blake's own version of christianity valued honesty and openness above repression or any obedience to a code of values (such as the ten commandments). up to a point he believed in nudism and sex outside marriage. he also believed that going to church was less important than following the christian way in your day-to-day life. these ideas put him in enmity with more conventional christians of the time. which was ok because blake didn't trust conventional christian ideas anyway.

in this poem blake sets out to examine the idea of christian forgiveness. the idea of 'turning the other cheek', 'do good to those who do evil to you' is a central tenet of christian belief. so all good christians will always forgive those whom they hate.

'yeah, right!', says blake.


in the first stanza blake points out that when we're angry with our friends we usually talk about it. and talking about it clears the air, gets it out of our system, dissipates it. we're not angry any more. for blake anger was often a positive thing: the energy in nature. the anger in a friendship is often what makes the relationship alive, as well as comforting. with our friends we use our anger, it moves us forward.

with an enemy though we keep our anger to ourselves. if we are christians we might call this forgiveness. but usually it isn't forgiveness. we keep our anger. we nurse it. it grows.

in this first stanza blake seemed to set out as if he was going to say something completely predictable and cliched about the way that civilized christian people inter-relate. but he's actually said nearly the opposite of what we expected (showing your anger defuses it, trying to repress it just makes it more intense). blake probably was psychologically damaged, but he was entirely lucid about this. say: blake was mad, but he knew he was mad. quite often blake gets his effect by taking a cliche situation and presenting it bare but clear. sometimes blake is so obvious he is difficult to understand (it's very hard to see something obvious that you've never noticed before: try to draw the marque badge on your family car without going out to look at it first). this is what blake is doing here: he's saying christian forgiveness doesn't make it easier for us to love people, it makes it more difficult because we just end up bearing a grudge that we had to forgive them. we cherish the anger, because we haven't been able to express it. and the anger grows because we have kept it to ourselves instead of sharing it with the person who made us angry.


in the second stanza the anger has become so strong that it has developed a separate identity. the anger is now not a feeling about somebody, the anger is a separate thing with its own existence (the poison tree of the title, and the illustration). blake knows exactly how strong feelings separate themselves from the people that they're originally attached to and become beliefs with a nearly independent existence. lots of people have very strong feelings about 'gays', 'blacks', 'muslims', 'women'. usually the feelings are so strong that the people that have them forget how nearly all gays, blacks, moslems, or women are not typical at all: they're all individuals.

the tree that blake has made out of his hatred can also feed off all aspects of blake's character and behaviour. when blake is unhappy and cries that is the rain his tree needs. when blake is happy and smiles that is sunshine for his tree. blake's hatred has become the complete parasite on him, able to consume and transform blake's entire existence to the poison's own needs.


the tree must have a purpose as well as an existence. in the third stanza the tree produces a beautiful apple which blake's enemy sees shining in blake's garden.

the apple was the trap which god set for adam and eve. blake was really uneasy about the sneaky stuff that god got up to in the garden of eden: he had some hard questions to ask god about whether the whole tree of knowledge business wasn't a bit sly (see his poem milton). but blake wasn't so naive to think that god had to be all nice and good neighbourly to be a good god. blake knew reality could be complicated sometimes. in this poem - just like in the garden of eden story - something evil produces a thing that looks beautiful (the shining apple). we know it's poison, blake knows it's poison, but blake's enemy doesn't.

blake's enemy can only see the beauty. he is greedy and he wants it. the trap is set.


fourth stanza: blake's enemy burgles the garden at night:

'when the night had veil'd the pole;'

blake probably means that the night is so dark that you can't see the pole star. north of the equator the one star that stays fixed in the sky all night long - the one that the other stars seem to orbit - is the pole star. for sailors the pole star is the one they navigate by, the one sure thing. but this night is so dark that the one solid rock, the pathfinder, is hidden. blake's enemy is completely lost.

come the morning blake's enemy is dead. he has eaten the poison apple and collapsed beneath the tree. in one sense blake's hatred has killed his enemy (by bearing the fruit of the poisoned apple) in another sense blake's god has killed his enemy (christ on the cross was often spoken of as 'on the tree': a foe outstretched beneath the tree seems almost to have been smitten by god). whichever is responsible blake is happy ('glad') about this.


of course, when christians forgive their enemies they don't do this because they think this is the best way of taking revenge. christians don't actually expect their god to get out there and trash all the ethnic, social and religious minorities they disapprove of.

[don't they? when was the last time you listened to a televangelist?]

but that's what's happened here.

and blake doesn't even say it's a bad thing. blake avoids having an opinion (he usually does). blake says: 'look, this is what happened. this is what happens. what do you think?'

of course blake sets it up in a way which forces us to think. that's why he's a poet.

a useful exercise with this poem is to try to find a christian hymn which talks about forgiving your enemies and compare it to the way this poem works. i think you'll find the hymn is more straightforward than the poem. in fact the hymn probably won't ask any questions at all. hymns aren't about making you think. they're just sales jingles.


metrically, as the inestimable mint-mocha observed, the poem is a set of four quatrains rimed aabb ccdd &c.

the lines are usually seven syllables long (with some eights, blake hated being tidy) with a stress on each alternate syllable.

seven syllable lines are always awkward sounding in english (english likes even syllbale lines: six, eight and ten are all firm favourite lengths). these sevens are exceptionally awkward. we can't decide whether the motion is iambic or trochaic, which makes the feel of the lines in the spoken voice unstable.

try adding a syllable to each line to hear how it smoothes the feeling of the poem (calms it down):

And then it grew both night and day
Until it bore an apple gay
And when my foe could see it shine
He was upset that it was mine

this is much more relaxed. doggerel in fact. the kind of manure you sing in church. blake gets just close enough to the feel of an ordinary hymn to let you know that this isn't one.

the riming is also worrying. these are quatrains (4 line verses) but the rimes go in couplets aa bb cc dd &c. the rime pulls one way, the sense another


blake was a proto-romantic. he wasn't interested in doing neat little poems explaining how good things were (or how bad things were; it comes down to the same thing). his arch-enemy sam johnson could do that. blake wanted to rip it up. blake could see poetry had lost the plot somewhere in the 1740s or thereabouts and he thought it was time somebody wrote a new kind of poetry. a poetry that showed how life was, not how people wanted to see it.


this is a deliberately worrying little poem (as are all the songs). at one level it's very straightforward, but it's straightforward about something which is itself pretty difficult to get your head round. blake didn't want to leave you with answers, he wanted to leave you with questions. in this poem he succeeds.
Added by: js0421
yeah, i totally agree that this poem can be looked in different ways. one is the moral saying, and another is the revenge that the person is trying to take on his foe. personally, i go with the second one. i think the author told us that in "Till it bore an apple bright", which means his anger all turned into a bright shiny apple, and that apple lured his enemy out and trick him into eating the fruit. both directly and indirectly, he took his revenge on his foe, thanks to his "apple".
Added by: jess
its ridiculous that some-one should go and research a poem and, in the search to find some good quality notes, is faced by what is essentially a cat fight.
William Blake's 'A Poison Tree' is a simple demonstration as to what can happen (in this case metaphorically) when one lets their feelings be bottled up, and how when angry with a familiar, you may say so, but if it is some one you don't like, society tells us we may not be truly honest about our feelings, which leads to more harm than goood,
all i can say is..WOW.
Added by: Michelle
wow...i am more mesmerized by the comments people have left than the actual analysis of the poem. Seriously..esp. the beginning where everyone was insulting each other. that`s so stupid. the LOOOONGGG analysis of this poem was RELLE good though. so props people!

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