A Poison Tree by William Blake

What is disturbing and, in fact, more tragic than death is that the speaker finds happiness upon discovering about the death.

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.

MCN: WJRBD-M6YYM-W9679

Just like many of Blake’s other poems, A Poison Tree has a childlike tone.

In the first stanza, the speaker describes two actions: the dying of the speaker’s wrath because he admitted his negative feelings for his friend and the growing of this wrath because the speaker kept to himself what he felt for his enemy.

In the succeeding stanzas, wrath is personified and is symbolized by a tree that bears a fruit after the speaker has nurtured it with his fears, tears, smiles and wiles.

The poem concludes with the enemy’s tragic death. But what is disturbing and, in fact, more tragic is that the speaker finds happiness upon discovering about the death. Obviously, the poem is about revenge. The speaker plots against his enemy and he succeeds in all his plans. It may be a real death or a figurative death but the speaker succeeds anyway.

On the surface, the poem may look simple and amateurish because of the writer’s effort of putting full end-rhymes in all the four stanzas (friend, end; foe, grow; fears, tears; smiles, wiles; and so on). To me, the poem sounds forced and artificial. But in a deeper analysis, the poem is actually brilliant.

For example, in the fourth stanza the writer used the word “pole” to stand for the tree which symbolizes wrath. Why did he use “pole” (and stole) when he could have used “tree” (and a similar sounding word)?

The concept of poles or about opposing ideas is prevalent in the poem: friend vs. foe, growth vs. death, smiles vs. tears, water vs. sun, and day vs. night. It is interesting to note that the two main opposing words are alliterated (Friend and Foe) and therefore highlights the theme.

The end is very dramatic because of these two images: (1) the death is discovered in the morning, the symbol of hope and of new life and (2) the tree which usually symbolizes life ends the enemy’s life.

Rhodora also writes at WARAYBLOGGER.com

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32 Comments
  1. nobert soloria bermosa
    Posted May 7, 2008 at 1:26 am

    nice review,thanks

  2. Rhodora Bande
    Posted May 7, 2008 at 10:15 pm

    Thanks for reading and for posting your comment Nobert.

  3. A THANKFUL STUDENT
    Posted June 12, 2008 at 6:58 pm

    thanks this helped me with my english assignment :P

  4. richel
    Posted June 27, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    just would like to thank you for encouraging me to share my thoughts online, i have recently posted my first article in authspot journals..hehe

    God bless you & your family always, ate! keep up it up… ;-)

  5. Rhodora Bande
    Posted June 30, 2008 at 11:39 pm

    Hi Richel,

    I hope you can give me the link so I can visit the site.

  6. rj lee
    Posted July 16, 2008 at 12:09 am

    thank you very much for the info… it would really help me with my assignment on analysis…

  7. Rhodora Bande
    Posted July 23, 2008 at 4:31 am

    Thanks as well for reading this, rj.

  8. asdfa kng
    Posted October 14, 2008 at 7:02 pm

    nice poem and good analysis

  9. hanson kang
    Posted October 14, 2008 at 7:04 pm

    thanks. It really helped me on my homework.

  10. a person
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    cool….

  11. Me and You
    Posted May 19, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    Awesome

  12. Me And You
    Posted May 19, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    Fantastic review, you are so knowledgable, competent and skilled. Also I invented the question mark?

  13. Shanna Banana
    Posted September 25, 2009 at 9:49 am

    This helped me with my 3 page english essay over this poem. Thank you! :)

  14. hello
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    your gay!

  15. Posted November 6, 2009 at 10:36 pm

    hey there
    your even more gay
    get over yourself
    xoxo

  16. penis flap
    Posted November 13, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    buttmeat

  17. Concerned 21 year old
    Posted November 13, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    Do your mothers’ know you’re talking like this =D

    !! my goodness.

  18. Obia
    Posted November 21, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    Very nice analysis, but I believe that when Blake used the word “pole”, “And into my garden stole. When the night had veiled the pole” I believe he meant the pole star (Polaris) symbolizing the beauty of the bright star in contrast to the death that will occur under it.

  19. BUTT3R
    Posted December 15, 2009 at 1:45 am

    Oh thank you so much, I hope i get a good mark by taking some of your points :)

  20. Paul
    Posted February 17, 2010 at 4:56 am

    Sorry, but i don’t really agree with the part where you said that the word “pole” was used instead of the word “tree”.
    In my opinion (which might be wrong), the word “pole” is another name for the North Star, which (for those who don’t know) is the star that leads sailors at sea during the night so they won’t get off track.

  21. Posted February 25, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    Hi Obia, Hi Paul,

    Thank you for saying something about the “pole.” When I did the analysis about 2 years ago, I just reacted to the text. I guess you are both familiar with the Formalism Theory.

    Readers may write a critique of a particular literary piece in different ways using the different approaches in literary criticism. One reader may even react differently to the same piece at different times (depending on the reader’s maturity and experience).

    It will be very interesting to accommodate in this article the idea about the pole being the North Pole. But as of now, I’m just too busy to overhaul the whole thing.

    If this discussion will help other readers in writing their own critiques, we should be happy then.

  22. I
    Posted April 14, 2010 at 2:35 am

    I have just read your critique, and I must tell you that I like it. I also like the way you handle opposing or contradicting ideas. i really appreciate writers who remain humble and open-minded.

    - Mr. I

  23. Posted July 31, 2010 at 6:47 am

    Mr. I: Thank you for your generous comment.

  24. Posted August 9, 2010 at 5:00 am

    I’m not really into poetry but your critique is well thought out just like a pro. For a while, I thought it was your poem.

  25. Posted August 28, 2010 at 7:44 pm

    Your very good and thorough interpretation gives justice to the artist’s work.

    You were totally right, everyone is entitled to their own interpretation on every literary piece. Our interpretation is indeed based on our experience, cultural background and many other things .For a classic piece like this, one, a good interpretation must also take into account the author’s background, the era the piece was written and many other things. More importantly, a good interpreter must also be able to see the significance of the piece to the present time .

    Again,everyone is entitled to their own opinion but this should be taken as an opportunity for everyone to learn from each others insight , no matter how different, it is from yours. That’s the beauty of literature, and that’s what I love most about it.

    Over all, good job!

  26. Posted August 31, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    this poem maybe applied to people who don’t get mad but they just get even! thanks for introducing me to William Blake and for your elaborate interpretaion!

  27. Posted September 7, 2010 at 10:27 am

    Husay! Am an idiot when it comes to poems. Although, I can appreciate them naman. :-)

  28. Posted September 13, 2010 at 7:13 am

    Another nice post. Thank you for this. It was very enlightening.

  29. Posted October 31, 2010 at 6:04 am

    a great poem by william blake. whenever i think of him, i recall his poem, “tiger tiger burning bright in the forest of the night” and this is another of his wonderful works. the article is very enjoyable to read and analysis ‘the poison tree’ very well. thanks very much, rhodora, for the lovely share.

  30. Posted November 11, 2010 at 9:07 pm

    Makarit gud!! I remember William BLake and I really like his poetry. This was a very good interpretation of the poem and as for me I think the apple represents/symbolizes the speaker’s dark plans for hi enemy. I give four thumbs up for that kasama pati paa LOL. Seriously, nice review. Ginbibiling kita ha FB di ko gud masearch it im name ako na la it iadd mo, cristopher delo santos. Wish ko liwat magreview hin literary works, hope I can give justice to the artist’s piece…

  31. Posted December 27, 2010 at 10:16 am

    i’ve read this poem. it defines a silent anger that is nurtured as a plant is when fed water and food. great article. :)

  32. amin sadeghi
    Posted January 11, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    hi.thank u very much. i like it very much.i m an english student in iran.u helped me a lot,giving me some clues

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