“A Poison Tree” by William Blake


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 waterd it in fears,
Night & 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 veild the pole;
In the morning glad I see;
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

This is a sobering poem that addresses the negative effects of not expressing your anger and allowing it to fester and grow in secret. In the first stanza, we are presented with two contrasting versions of how the speaker deals with his anger. In the first scenario, the person expresses his anger to his friend in a healthy manner and the result is that the anger goes away. In the second scenario, because the person keeps his anger hidden within, it grows. This is a common occurrence. Generally, when anger is stuffed inside, it tends to turn to resentment, which adds fuel to the wrath that smolders within.

In the second stanza, we see that fear continues to add to the suppressed anger, causing it to grow more. In addition, the protagonist now begins exhibiting signs of deception, smiling at his secret enemy while quietly plotting his revenge. In the third stanza, his silent anger finally bears fruit, the result of which is the death of his foe in the final stanza.

As is often the case with a Blake poem, there are other layers of symbolism woven in. This poem is no exception. I suspect that Blake also intended the speaker of the poem to represent Satan. Satan is certainly depicted as a being “with soft deceitful wiles.” And the apple is a definite reference to the Eden myth, where Adam and Eve are tempted to eat the forbidden fruit. Essentially, eating of the fruit in the Garden poisons the minds of the two archetypal humans.

Finally, it is worth meditating on the image that Blake incorporates with this poem. Beneath the tree is the outstretched foe. The positioning of the body resembles a crucifixion image. I think it could be argued that the foe beneath the tree is Christ, who was not only killed on the cross, but was suffering another symbolic death as the Industrial Age led many people to abandon Christ’s teachings for science and technology. Remember, the apple is also a symbol associated with Sir Isaac Newton.


Filed under Literature

9 responses to ““A Poison Tree” by William Blake

  1. I could have used this analysis in college when I was reading all this poetry!

  2. What an impressive analysis for such a great poem… the main theme is so eloquent … i.e the effects of not expressing your anger thus allowing it to fester and grow in secret. Blake was a genius to speak about this and he did it in a perfect way… Thanks for sharing… You are a joy to read dear Jeff! ⭐ All my best wishes ⭐ Aquileana 😀

    • Dear Aquileana. Thanks for taking the time to read my post and for sharing your kind and encouraging words. I agree with you; Blake is an amazing poet and he was not afraid to explore sensitive social issues while never losing sight of the divine nature of humans.

      Sending you all the best!!


  3. John C. Weaver

    Thanks for explaining two different levels to this poem. I have trouble understanding the line “. . . when night had veiled the pole “. Perhaps it’s not that important to the poem, but the line makes me curious. I even wondered about it way back in my college days.

    • I went back and looked at the line. The pole may be a reference to the polar region, implying that it was in winter. Winter is the season associated with death in the cycle of the seasons, so this would tie into the poem’s theme.

      Thanks for your comments. What I miss most about college is discussing literature with people. Glad you are taking the time to read the posts and share your ideas.