A POISON TREE


Human beings, along with the ability to reason and question, possess the capacity to hate, and yet also to forgive. Unfortunately, forgiving someone is not always as easy as holding a grudge against them and this lack of control over one’s actions is inherent to human nature. In “A poison tree”, William Blake critically discusses these two opposing forces, uncovering the inherent weakness in humans, and the effects of these innate flaws. Through the use of extended metaphors and vivid imagery, Blake symbolically portrays this fundamental flaw through the poem.


The central theme in the poem is hatred and anger, dominating much of the author’s thoughts. Blake expresses this through the introduction of a clever parallelism - the treatment of anger between a friend and a foe. Through this, Blake emphasises the nature of anger – while expressing and letting go of wrath ends it, suppression nurtures it.


Blake further symbolizes this in the next two stanzas. He appears to metaphor the repression of anger and hatred to ‘a poison tree’, thus giving it an identity. Blake recognises the dangers of storing anger, and its parasitic nature, conveying that as we put on a smile pretending we have forgave and forgotten, we are merely deceiving ourselves, allowing the wrath to, like a tree, grow within us, its branches extending through out our bodies until it completely consumes our mind and soul, at which point, the only thought existing in our mind is hatred, and vengeance.


Through the poem, Blake criticizes the forgiveness displayed in our society. He recognises that while we express our anger to friends, we tend to suppress this emotion with foes, believing that, as ‘civilised’ people, we should refrain from the expression of such an emotion. However, Blake reveals the weaknesses of our human nature – anger will only diminish through expression, forgiveness will not only fail to bring calmness and diminished anger, it will fuel the wrath, allowing it to grow to a state of complete manifestation.


Blake, being a religious visionary, has also criticized the views and actions of Christianity. This is evident in the symbol of the ‘poison tree’, which can be seen to make direct biblical reference to the tree of knowledge, representing the evil existing within man. Thus, as the garden is symbolic of the Garden of Eden, the apple is symbolic of apple which brought Adam and eve to their demise. It is the evil and poison that is bared from anger, the fruit of the poison tree. As in the biblical story, the apple here is beautiful on the outside, while poisonous and deadly underneath.


By presenting the apple, Black is symbolic of the Serpent, maliciously deceiving his foe and bringing his demise. The serpent in Black is his weakness, and just like he, all humans have this inherent flaw inside of them. Black uses this to criticise Christian forgiveness, expressing that while Christians believe in ‘turning the other cheek’, by forgiving and repressing anger, they are ignoring the basic flaw existing in our human nature.


The poem is written in an earnest and sincere tone, analysing the various aspects of human nature and modern society. It is sceptical, criticizing the views of his religion, yet solemn in his responses. It is written in closed form, following a specific rhyme scheme of two sets of rhyming cuplets in each stanza ( AABB,CCDD), for all four stanzas. While this is so, Blake does not follow the standard form of poetry, setting out to write a new kind of poetry, thus using syllables of 7,8,7,8 7,7,7,7 8,8,8,8 7,7,7,8 rather than the traditional way of 7 syllables in each line.


“A poison tree” a poem full of depth, was at first hard to comprehend. However, when understood, I found myself fascinated with the philosophical approach William Blake took to the issues that exist within modern society. His view on the nature of anger made me reflect on myself, and found that just like the rest of the civilised people, I suppress much of my anger, refusing to embarrass myself or be uncivilised. It made me realise that, to achieve happiness, it pays to be uncivilised, ignore my image and express my emotions.