A Poison Tree Poem by William Blake | Summary Explanation & Questions

A Poison Tree Poem by William Blake

A Poison Tree Poem

Author | William Blake

William Blake ( November 27, 1757-  August 12, 1827) was a romantic poet. He belonged to the first half of the century. He was also a painter, sculptor, and artist who is regarded as an important figure of the Romantic Age.
 
His writings have influenced countless writers and artists through the ages, and he has been viewed as both a major poet and also a visionary artist. His most important literary contributions were The Book of Thel, The Songs of Experience, and Songs of Innocence.
 
Blake was an established engraver and soon he began receiving instructions to paint watercolors and he painted scenes from the works of Milton, Dante, Shakespeare, and the Bible. He was a visionary artist and a great romantic poet.
 
To Blake, science represented the bones of the human body, the reason the bones clothed in flesh, imagination the living form and vision, the human form divine. This great literary figure of the Romantic age breathed his last in the year 1827 at the age of 70.
 

Summary | Main Idea of the poem

A Poison Tree is a famous symbolic poem written by William Blake. William Blake is a mystic poet. Throughout his life, he has created harmony, friendship, and fraternity among people. This short but thought-provoking poem has been composed by the artist-poet William Blake.
 
He delineated human nature in a simple but powerful language. In this piece of poetry, William Blake teaches us a moral lesson of great significance. He gives a comparison of anger and hatred to a poison tree. 
 
Since we do not converse with our enemies, our animosity and hatred grow quickly. We nurse our misconceptions with fears and strengthen them with our evil tricks. We do secret strives to bring about the destruction of our opponents.
 
We adopt many courses to tempt and cheat them. Sometimes our enemies fail to see the dirty tricks and fall a victim to our evil plans. When we see them fallen and defeated, we get happiness and feel proud of our success.
 
The poem is based on the conflict between good and evil. The poet talks of tending and nourishing hatred. This evil is a result of a lack of trust between friends and enemies. Friends are different. They can forget and forgive but enemies nurse their grudges.
 
They make plans and plot to trap each other. Disgrace and destruction of one give special pleasures to the other. In our madness to take revenge on our opponents, we indulge in many vices and misdeeds. The poem has a question between the lines.
 
Is it so fair to give this kind of vicious treatment even to our enemies? The answer is No. It also suggests that the evildoer will not get a free hand forever. He will certainly suffer for his wrong things. The poem A poison Tree gives us a message of selfless and devoted friendship among the people. 
 
The basic theme of this poem is based on selfless love. Love is the basic need of human happiness while hatred is poison and destroys human happiness while hatred is poison and destroys human happiness. Human life can become peaceful if people began to love and trust one another. 
 
William Blake has eloquently explained this theme through a parable. He says that friends forgive and remove hatred among them while enemies nurse their grudges and take pleasure in destroying one another.
 
William Blake has given this poem a highly symbolic title where he depicted the poison tree as a tree of hatred and misunderstanding. The negative feelings in human beings are like a poison tree that produces poisonous fruit.
 
Such a tree of hatred bears fruit that is bright from the outside but poisonous from inside. So the title of the poem expresses the feelings of hatred, hypocrisy, and ill will. This tree reminds us of the forbidden tree of the Garden of Eden and the idea of temptation is connected with it.
 
Eva is deceived by the beautiful tree; the tree of life and wiles of Satan. According to Christians, it was a tree of apple, but we the Muslims believe it was a wheat tree. It is written in the Holy Quran. Only Allah Almighty knows the reality.  In this poem, the enemy of the poet is tempted by The apple bright.
 
The main points of this poem however remain ambiguous. Why was the poet able to tell his friend of his anger but not his foe? Where does his anger begin to be a tree? How did he tend it, and what does this mean in psychological term nursing a grievance? 
 
What does the apple symbolize, and what other story about an apple is it reminiscent of? Where does he, as it were, tempt his foe? What is his foe’s object in stealing into my garden? what is his fate? And finally who did kill the enemy.
 
At the end of the poem, we the readers can understand that hatred and enmity are always destructive. These negative feelings destroy both parties. So the poet advises the readers that they must not hate one another. They should remove misunderstanding and hatred among them.
 

Explanation and Reference to Context

Lines 1-4

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

Reference and Context

These lines are taken from A Poison Tree written by William Blake.
 
William Blake is a well-known mystic poet. He describes his experience of life in this poem. Hatred is the outcome of a lack of trust. Friends can forget and forgive but enemies nurse their grudges.
 
Enemies take pleasure in destroying each other. The poet leaves the reader to make his own conclusions. Hatred is the basis of enmity, so one should avoid it. But once it gets started, it destroys everything.
 

Explanation

In these lines, the poet states that once he was angry with one of his friends. He did not hide his anger from him. Hebeliebe=ved that it was not fair on his part to conceal any secret from his friends. So he disclosed his resentment to his friend.
 
As soon as he did so, he felt relieved. It was a healthy experience for him. He felt no more anger against him as his misconception against his friend had all banished by the exposure of his hidden anger to his enemy.
 
But once he was annoyed with his foe he did not think to disclose his wrath to his enemy. He feared that his enemy would retaliate with bitter enmity than before. It kept increasing even more and more. He nurtured his anger more and became negative against him.
 

Lines 5-8

And I watered it in fears
Night and morning with my tears
And I sunned it with smiles
And with soft deceitful wiles. 
 

Reference and Context

Same as for lines 1-4
 

Explanation

These lines present the poet’s anger against his enemy and his anger went on growing in the shape of a plant. A natural plant needs two things for its growth: water, and sunshine. So Blake irrigated his poison tree every morning with his tears of fear.
 
The tears were the outcome of his painful thoughts. The next thing needed by his tree of discord was the natural heat of sunshine which he gave in the shape of his hypocritical smiles and wicked tricks.
 
On the one hand, he feared the loss of his friendship and wept for the same. On the other hand, he showed his sleights of hand and other deceptive tricks to show his faithfulness to his friend. In this way, he used all evil means to strengthen the poisonous tree of hatred.
 

Lines 9-12

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
 

Reference and Context

Same as for lines 1-4
 

Explanation

In these lines, the poet tells us about the growth of the tree of hatred. It had tremendous growth. The poisonous tree now began to grow easily and hardly both day and night. At last, it bore a bright apple on its top.
 
The apple was so attractive and tasty that it tempted Blake’s enemy. Blake’s enemy saw it shining so freshly and charmingly. His enemy knew that it was his(Blake’s) property and so could not be got without stealing.
 
So Blake had succeeded in imperceptible instigation his enemy to become a thief. This means that the result of Blake’s long developed but unexpressed hatred began to be felt soon by his enemy.
 

Lines 13-16

And into my garden stole
When the night had veil’d the pole
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretche’d beneath the tree.
 

Reference and Context

Same as for lines 1-4
 

Explanation

In these lines, the poet tells us about the end of his enemy. Blake’s enemy felt attracted towards that poisonous but glittering fruit. He felt jealous to see the apple. He wanted to eat it. So he entered the garden quietly in the darkness of the night.
 
He picked the apple and ate it up. It was very delicious but proved fatal for him. The enemy was found dead under the tree in the morning. On his death, William Blake’s joy knew no bounds. On the certainty that his enemy would not come to term with him, he had let his wrath grow in his malicious heart.
 
In other words, the enemy fell a victim to the poet’s evil designs and lost his life. It was a result of his misunderstanding and anger that grew for lack of trust and communication. In this way, the poet killed his enemy with his anger.
 

Important Questions and their Answers

Question 1

How appropriate is the title of the poem?
Discuss the significance of the title A poison Tree.

Answer

William Blake’s poem A Poison Tree is symbolic. The title of this poem is quite appropriate. It suits the subject matter of the poem. The tree of hatred is nourished by fears, tears, hypocrisy, malice, and deceitful wiles. The fruit of such a tree is full of poison.

The poet tells us how evil designs and ugly tricks lead to destructive results. The poet says that he was angry with his friend and he told him about it. The result was that his anger came to an end and they became friends again.

After some time, once he got angry with his enemy, he did not tell him, as a result, his anger began to grow and ut became a tree of hatred. The poet had been watering it day and night with his fears and tears.

To harm his enemy, he tried to conceal his feelings of grudge under the cloak of civility and smiling face. His hypocritical behavior with his enemy served as sunshine for the growth of the poisonous tree of hatred.

The tree put forth a bright apple that looked sweet apparently but was very poisonous in reality. His enemy could not resist the temptation and planned to steal that fruit. He ate the fruit and died. In this poem, the poet has used two symbols that are of tree and apple.

First, the poet has used the symbol of a tree. This is not a real tree that we see daily around us. It is a tree of hatred and enmity that can not be seen. Because this tree exists in our mind. Secondly, the poet has used the apple as a symbol. 
 
Apple is a fruit that we get from the tree after a long process when the tree becomes mature. This apple is not sweet but poisonous. It means the friendship of the poet is not true because after eating the bright apple, the poet’s enemy dies at the spot. As the poet says:
And into my garden stole, When the night had veil’d the pole. 

After reading the poem carefully, we can say that the title of the poem A Poison Tree is quite appropriate to the story of the poem. According to the poet trust between two fellows must not be colored by misgivings, fears, and suspicion.

Question 2

Poison is, in fact, unexcused anger and wrath. Elaborate 
A poison Tree rightly describes the poet’s mental and emotional attitude towards his enemy. Elaborate
 
Answer
 
A Poison Tree is rightly an extended metaphor to describe the poet’s mental and emotional attitude towards his enemy. We use a metaphor when we use words to mean something different from the thing described. 
 
Thus, the poet has used the word tree not to describe the common green trees with green leaves and branches. He has used it to show the great hatred that he had for his enemy. The poet extends the metaphor thus used to show his growing hatred for his enemy.
 
He provided the water his fears and tears to the tree. He provided it the sunlight of his hateful smiles and cunning tricks. Trees develop on the bright sun’s light. But here the poison tree grew on the poet’s hateful smiles and tricks or plans to damage the enemy.
 
The fruit of an apple tree is healthful, here it was poisonous. Then, at night, the poet’s enemy went into his garden secretly and died soon after eating it. The symbol of the apple is also connected to the apple in Paradise which Adam and Eve ate. 
 
They ate it against God’s order, poisoned their lives, became bad, and were turned out. Here the poet attracted his enemy to the poisoned apple. His enemy died on eating it. It was the poet’s evil act. The poet is conscious of it.
 
The poet discussed his differences with the friend openly. He forgot his animosity and annoyance. I told my wrath, my wrath ended. But with an enemy, the poet continued with his enmity and anger. The anger and enmity went on growing in him. I told it not, my wrath did grow.
 
He and his enemy did not excuse each other. The poet had newer fears and worries in the quarrel in him. He went on promoting them inwardly. He went on making plans to destroy his enemy. The poem shows how unexcused anger and hatred between two persons end tragically.
 

Question 3

What message does the poet want to give his readers in A Poison Tree?
Critically evaluate the main ideas of the poem A Poison Tree.

Answer

A Poison Tree is a moralistic poem. William Blake gives the message of universal brotherhood, selflessness, and love for humanity. He is fully aware and conscious of the evil results of anger, hatred, and hypocrisy.
 
In his view, anger, hatred, and selflessness embitter human relations. If feelings of anger are allowed to nourish, they produce hatred and malice. As a result, they destroy human relations.
 
In fact, the poet wishes to promote trust, harmony, love, and friendship among human beings. He advises us to produce in us a spirit of love for our fellow human beings. Love is the basic need of human happiness while hatred is poison and damage human peace.
 
Human life can become peaceful if people begin to love and trust one another. William Blake has eloquently explained this message through a parable. He says friends forgive and remove hatred among them while enemies nurse their grudges and take pleasure in destroying one another.
 
After reading the poem, we, the readers come to know that the result of hatred is always destructive. So the poet advises us to remove misunderstandings. In this way, we can live a prosperous and peaceful life.
 

Question 4

Discuss the poem A Poison Tree as a symbolic poem. Elaborate

Answer

The poem is very philosophical and symbolic. The poet wants to convey very deeper meanings to us. He has told a golden principle of life through symbols. There is enough difference between the apparent and the hidden meanings of the words.
 
The poisonous apple tree is a symbol of hate, anger, deceit, malice, cunningness, cleverness, hypocrisy, and such other negative feelings in human beings. The apple tree is nourished by hatred, fear, and doubts.
 
The poet has used the apple as a symbol. Apple is not a poisonous tree but a sweet one. and we get fruit from its tree through a long process when the tree becomes mature. It means the friendship of the poet is not true because after eating the bright apple, the poet’s enemy dies at once.
And into my garden stole  When the night had veil’d the pole
The apple is a symbol of wicked plans of evil that continue their manipulation till downfall.  The evil plans in this poem are very colorful apparently. The protagonist asserts that he watered this plant of hatred with smiles and beautiful snares.
 
The act of stealth is committed at night. The night is a time of darkness that is associated with evil. Shakespeare has described it as tis now witching time night. In the last line of the poem, there is a sense of relief and triumph that indicates hatred has won. 
 
This poem gives a great moral message. It tells us that the suppression of the feelings of hatred and anger leads us to destruction. So, it is better for us to express all the negative feelings of anger and hatred. If we do so, we can get rid of it.

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