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Symbolism and Meaning of “A Poison Tree”

William Blake’s “A Poison Tree” basically uses two symbols (an apple and a tree) to relate its meaning. The tree represents the growing anger in the speaker’s heart against his enemy and the apple represents the “fruit” of that anger, an action, in the poem, murder. Blake uses the poem to teach the reader that, just as Christ teaches, we should forgive our friends as well as our enemies and that we should not hold grudges.

Line four and five introduce us to the initiating conflict in the poem. The speaker for one reason or another becomes angry with his enemy. Instead of announcing his anger to the enemy, as he had done with his friend in lines one and two, the speaker keeps the anger to himself. The speaker’s enemy has no idea that the speaker is angry with him.

In the second stanza we get greater insight into the speaker’s concealed anger. We learn that he “watered it in fears” meaning that he let his anger grow because of fears that his enemy was doing the same thing, or maybe that his enemy was doing something else that he didn’t know about just then that would also anger him. We also learn that the speaker’s anger grew “night and morning” because the speaker was feeling sorry for himself and becoming depressed, which, of course, the speaker was blaming on his enemy, which increased his anger against him. In lines seven and eight we learn that the speaker also “sunnèd it [his anger] with smiles, / and with soft deceitful wiles.” Again, this means that the speaker’s enemy didn’t even know that the speaker was mad at him because the speaker would smile and act nicely towards his enemy. One would think that this kindness towards his enemy would make the speaker less angry, but instead it only continues to increase his anger against his enemy.

In the third stanza we learn about the product of the speaker’s concealed anger, represented by a tree, an action, represented by an apple. In the fourth stanza the speaker’s enemy steals the apple off the speaker’s metaphorical tree and apparently eats it, as the speaker finds him dead the next day. What this represents is the speaker’s anger finally coming out. But, this time, unlike with his friend, the anger has built up to such a point that a simple “wrath” cannot just be told, it must be acted upon. And acted upon it was. The speaker killed his enemy and was pleased at the sight. In the speaker’s mind the fear and tears caused by this anger are finally gone.

What I like about this poem is that it ends with the speaker being happy. It lets the reader imagine what the speaker will feel like in a few moments. Will he still be happy about the dead he has just committed? My guess is that the speaker will be deeply pained by that action of murder he has just committed. Once the speaker is sober from his rage he will realise what he has done and will be deeply pained by it. This is the conclusion, I think, Blake was trying to push us towards.

The symbols Blake uses in this poem, the tree and the apple, are quit interesting. One would usually associate them with the biblical story of Adam and Eve. However, in this poem the tree and the apple obviously have different meanings than in the biblical story. So, why use an apple and a tree? I’m not quit sure why Blake used such symbols. Possibly he used them because they are natural symbols. Since Blake was a romantic poet this would make a lot of since. Another reason Blake might have used the symbols of the tree and apple are because of their familiarity to most people of his time because of the biblical story. Since most people would be familiar with the symbols they would be more apt to read the poem and thus by reading the poem learning the lesson Blake had in store for them.

Through his poem “A Poison Tree” William Blake teaches us, through the symbols of the tree and the apple, that we should forgive our friends as well as our enemies and that we should not hold grudges.