“A Poison Tree” by William Blake

This post analyzes a poem about anger.

William Blake (1757-1827) was a poet and painter in England. His poetry and art gave inspiration to those in the Romantic Age.

The following poem by Blake is called “A Poison Tree.” Below the poem, I will provide an analysis.

A Poison Tree
1 I was angry with my friend;
2 I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
3 I was angry with my foe:
4 I told it not, my wrath did grow.
5 And I watered it in fears,
6 Night & morning with my tears:
7 And I sunned it with smiles,
8 And with soft deceitful wiles.
9 And it grew both day and night.
10 Till it bore an apple bright.
11 And my foe beheld it shine,
12 And he knew that it was mine.
13 And into my garden stole,
14 When the night had veiled the pole;
15 In the morning glad I see;
16 My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

This poem is about anger. In the first two lines (L1-L2), Blake says that he was angry with his friend. But he revealed his anger to his friend (or another) and this act of telling about his anger had the effect of ending it.

However, beginning in line 3, Blake (or his alter ego) says that he was angry with his enemy and, since he held his anger inside, the anger grew. The rest of the poem is a conceit (extended metaphor) that compares anger to a tree. In lines 5 and 6, he watered the anger tree with his fears and tears. In lines 7 and 8, he suns the tree with his smile and hypocrisy. In lines 9 to 12, the anger tree produced fruit that his enemy knew came from the him. In lines 13 and 14, the enemy crept into the garden, and in lines 15 and 16, Blake saw his enemy lying (dead) under the tree.

In this poem, Blake presents us with a possible result of not dealing with our anger. The lesson seems to be that if we don’t deal with our anger, it can grow and produce negative consequences. It can, in some cases, produce death.

It seems that Blake is promoting psychoanalysis before psychoanalysis had even been invented. But merely talking about our feelings may not change them, for if we cherish our anger, we might get ourselves worked up into a frenzy by dwelling on it. However, letting go of our feelings of anger, or overlooking the things that seemed to bring them about, might help us to transform our feelings.

Lacking in Blake’s poem is the effect of anger on the person who is angry. In my view, anger can lead to rash actions and attacks on others. And when we attack others, we feel guilty and afraid that someone will attack us in return. Thus, anger turns into fear, and fear leads to other attacks in the attempt to defend ourselves or to preempt other people’s attacks.

However, forgiveness of others cuts down the anger tree at its roots. Forgiveness of self also makes us less fearful of revenge attacks. Below, I have continued Blake’s poem with these ideas.

And when I saw him lying dead,
My mind was filled with utter dread;
I feared that men would come to chase,
And I would end up in disgrace.

But when some men came to the site,
I decided not to flee or fight;
I told them what had happened there,
Though I did not know if they’d spare.

My anger was replaced by fear,
But when the dread became severe,
I looked within and pardoned me
And calmly faced the world’s decree.

Historical Outline of English Poetry

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