A Poison Tree is a famous poem from Romantic Era English poet William Blake. It was published in 1794 in his collection Songs of Experience. In general, it is about repressed anger that can lead to violence. It also points to the state of humankind in the Romantic Era. The particulars of the poem will be discussed in detail in the following paragraphs. Here is the poem for reference:
A Poison Tree
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.
The poem has a trochaic beat (three feet for each line; a succession of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable). In total, it consists of four stanzas. Each couplet rhymes with each other. The narration of the poem is expressed in the first person. In addition, the original draft of the poem had a line drawn beneath the first stanza, which might mean that Blake wanted the poem to end there (Stauffer, Andrew). In fact, multiple revisions were made before it was published.
Themes to look for
First off, let us look at the biblical connection the poem has. Blake was commonly deliberate in his usage of symbols. According to Owlcation.com, “The wrath of the speaker becomes a metaphorical tree bearing a poison apple. This allusion to the book of Genesis, chapter 3, is a clear one. The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is the poem’s tree. The Serpent is the speaker, both tempting and deceitful. And Adam and Eve are the foe, both guilty of disobedience” (Spacey, Andrew). However, the link between the Bible and the poem is more nuanced than direct.
Another take on the poem is that it is about the anger in British society with the start of the French Revolution. In addition, Blake, like Coleridge, believed in expressing malice in healthy ways. Blake was not a person who adhered to vengeance, but by letting go of one’s anger through safe action (Stauffer, Andrew).
An interesting aspect to note in the poem is the term “poison.” The act of poisoning is brought up in many poems of Blake. In most of Blake’s works, it is seen as a sign of corrupted identity or individualism (Peterfreund, Stuart).
The poem could also be a moral lesson: take responsibility for your anger, or the people you hate will get hurt and might even die. According to Owlcation.com, “With repeated emphasis on the self – seventeen times I, my, mine – the speaker courageously suggests that responsibility for managing anger is personal. If it is left to fester and not dealt with then the consequences could be dire” (Spacey, Andrew). In its simple, nursery-rhyme language and rhythm, A Poison Tree makes for a powerful and serious message.
Poetic devices to notice
Antithesis: This is shown in the first stanza with the first two lines contrasting or juxtaposing the last two lines of the stanza.
Alliteration: Strings of the same consonant can be found throughout A Poison Tree, such as “And I sunned it with smiles.”
Allusion: As mentioned before, the poem alludes to the Garden of Eden.
Metaphor: The apple is the manifestation of the anger of the narrator.
Symbolism: The tree is symbolic of the wrath’s growth, while “garden” may be a symbol for the heart where the hatred has developed.
Imagery: Mostly, the poem concentrates on delivering imagery about the tree, apple, and garden, with one very interesting phrase: “And I waterd it in fears.”
A Poison Tree is a poem that seems to flow naturally with its rhythm, but its overall tone is serious. It portrays what happens to us if we hold in anger towards someone for a long time. We hurt not only ourselves, but also those we despise. Perhaps this poem is saying that vengeance is the ugliest of things, and that it can even happen indirectly.
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“A Poison Tree Analysis – Literary Devices and Poetic Devices.” Literary Devices, 7 Mar. 2019, literarydevices.net/a-poison-tree/.
Peterfreund, Stuart. William Blake in a Newtonian World. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998.
Spacey, Andrew. “Analysis of Poem ‘A Poison Tree’ by William Blake.” Owlcation, Owlcation, 25 Jan. 2019,
Stauffer, Andrew. Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.