A Poison Tree

“A Poison Tree”, by William Blake is a poem of four stanzas, with a rhyme scheme of aa-bb-cc-dd-ee-ff-gg-hh, and in which the poet examines the negative effects of unresolved anger - A Poison Tree introduction. Blake cleverly presents this idea by way of an extended metaphor in order to make the point that if you let anger fester and build up, deplorable actions may occur. Blake also employs allusions and tone to help convey this theme.

An extended metaphor is a literary device that compares two unlike things at length. In “A Poison Tree”, the poet compares a growing apple tree with growing anger. As the speaker’s anger grows it develops into a smoldering force that could set off the speaker. In the second stanza in the poem it says, “ And I water it with my fears, Night and morning with my tear; And I sunned it with my smiles, And with soft deceitful wiles.” (lines 5-8). These actions represent all the factors that contribute to the growing of the figurative tree, which is the speaker’s anger. Like a tree, his wrath is being “watered” with fears and tears and it is being “sunned” by tricks and fake smiles. Furthermore, the speaker’s aggravation becomes an “apple” or almost tangible object that the foe takes from the speaker’s “garden”. In reality, this means that the foe purposefully provokes the speaker. The extended metaphor in “A Poison Tree” successfully links a tree with anger.

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Poets use allusions to refer to famous literary works or famous people. In “A Poison Tree”, Blake alludes to the story of Adam and Eve from the book of Genesis. He does this to display the sins of anger and temptation. In stanza four the poem says “And into my garden stole when the night veiled a pole: and in the morning glad I see My foe outstretched beneath the tree.” (lines 13-16) Like in the story when Eve stole into the Garden of Eden and ate the apple that was prohibited by God, the foe stole into the speaker’s emotions provoked him to kill the foe. The sin of temptation is shown when the foe is tempted to steal the “apple”. The speaker set him up on purpose because the speaker wanted a reason to kill him. The sin of anger was displayed through the entire poem as the narrator’s frustration grew into wrath and hatred. Blake uses the biblical allusion exceptionally well to help set up a background for this poem.

In order to understand a poem, a reader must recognize its tone. Tone is the attitude a writer takes toward a subject and reflects the feelings of the writer. The tone or message that the author is trying to convey of “A Poison Tree” is humans often let anger take over their lives and effect their actions. In stanza one, lines 1-4. The poem states, “I was angry with my friend, I told my wrath, my wrath did end. I was angry with my foe: I told my wrath, my wrath did grow.” These words are signifying the fact that anger can get worse if left alone, and how it is better to talk about your issues and conflicts with the people that are causing them then to let the problems become progressively shoddier. The rhyme scheme of this poem contributes to the theme because it makes the poem lighter than it really is. It offers a different side of the theme that could come across as sarcastic or joking. The tone of “A Poison Tree” demonstrates a very real problem that thousands encounter upon daily: the decision to let anger worsen or too squelch it before it becomes a threat.

Finally, a text’s title may provide an important key to understanding the theme or message of the poem. Blake’s poem title is helpful to consider because by looking at “A Poison Tree” you can infer that the poem is going to be negative and possibly have some malignant qualities.

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