“The Poison Tree” by William Blake warns against the dangers of suppressing emotions, particularly anger. It advocates for open communication and addressing conflicts directly to prevent the growth of destructive resentment, as illustrated by the chilling outcome in the poem.
“A Poison Tree” serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of suppressing emotions, particularly anger. It suggests that unexpressed resentment can grow into something destructive, ultimately leading to dire consequences. The poem emphasizes the importance of open communication and addressing conflicts head-on to avoid the poisonous fruits of unresolved emotions.
In the first stanza, the speaker sets the stage by revealing two instances of anger—one towards a friend and the other towards a foe. The key distinction lies in how the speaker handles these emotions. With the friend, open communication resolves the issue, but with the foe, the anger is kept hidden, allowing it to fester. This establishes the central theme of the poem: the consequences of expressing versus suppressing anger.
Moving to the second stanza, the speaker metaphorically describes the nurturing of his anger. Tears, fears, smiles, and deceitful actions become the elements that sustain the emotional seed. The stanza explores the complex nature of suppressed anger, emphasizing the negative energy invested in its growth. The smiles and deceit represent a deceptive facade that conceals the true, toxic emotions beneath the surface.
The third stanza introduces the metaphor of a poisonous tree growing from the nurtured anger. This tree bears a bright apple, symbolizing the tangible outcome of harboured resentment. The foe, noticing the tree and its tempting fruit, becomes aware of the speaker’s anger. The metaphorical representation suggests that unaddressed anger intensifies over time, becoming more noticeable to others.
As the poem reaches its conclusion in the fourth stanza, the consequences of suppressed anger manifest gruesomely. The foe, enticed by the apple, succumbs to its poison, resulting in his death. The speaker’s satisfaction at finding his foe dead beneath the tree underscores the dark resolution to the conflict. The poem closes with a chilling portrayal of the destructive consequences of unchecked anger, highlighting the twisted sense of satisfaction the speaker derives from his enemy’s demise.
Stanza Wise Explanation
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.
- Angry: Feeling strong displeasure or resentment.
- Friend: A person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection.
- Wrath: Extreme anger.
- Told my wrath: Expressing and communicating one’s anger
- Foe: An enemy or opponent.
- Told it not: Choosing not to communicate or disclose one’s anger.
Explanation : The speaker starts by expressing anger towards both a friend and a foe. However, when it comes to the friend, the speaker communicates their anger, and as a result, the anger dissipates. In contrast, with the foe, the speaker keeps the anger inside bottled up, allowing it to fester and grow.
This stanza establishes the contrast between expressing anger and suppressing it. It suggests that expressing anger can lead to its resolution, while suppressing it can lead to its growth and destructive consequences.
This stanza sets the stage for the overarching theme of the poem—communication and the consequences of suppressed emotions. It highlights the difference in dealing with conflicts openly (with the friend) versus keeping them hidden (with the foe).
It suggests that confronting anger (other emotions or any misunderstanding or conflict) head-on is a healthy way to deal with it.
Summary: In the first stanza, the speaker sets the stage by revealing two instances of anger—one towards a friend and the other towards a foe. The key distinction lies in how the speaker handles these emotions. With the friend, open communication resolves the issue, but with the foe, the anger is kept hidden, allowing it to fester. This establishes the central theme of the poem: the consequences of expressing versus suppressing anger.
And I watered it in fears,
Night and morning with my tears:
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.
- Watered it in fears: Symbolic action of nurturing or fuelling something. Nurtured or fuelled the anger with anxieties or worries.
- Sunned Smiles: Exposed to sunlight, metaphorically representing positive emotions or actions. Shone upon or nurtured the anger with false expressions of happiness- masking the anger with cheerful expressions.
- Soft Deceitful Wiles: Employing cunning and deceptive strategies in a gentle or subtle manner.
Explanation: The stanza describes how the speaker nurtures his anger using a combination of negative emotions and deceptive friendliness. In simple terms, the speaker is describing how they handle their anger. They use tears and fears to feed and grow it, while also putting on a fake smile and using deceit to hide it.
The speaker compares nurturing anger to watering a seed with tears, signifying the emotion’s sustained growth through negativity. The speaker’s fear, tears, and deceitful actions represent the negative energy he invests in nurturing anger, turning it into something harmful.
Simultaneously, the speaker “suns” it with smiles and deceit, showing a false friendliness that hides the underlying resentment behind a false facade of fake smile.
In a broader literary sense, the stanza explores how the speaker fosters his anger. The tears and fears symbolize negative emotions, while the smiles and deceitful actions portray a superficial friendliness. This complexity reflects the nature & behaviour of suppressed anger.
Summary: To put it simply, the stanza describes how the speaker feeds and grows his anger with negative emotions and deceptive friendliness. It emphasizes the idea that suppressing anger can lead to its harmful development, hidden behind a false facade.
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.
- Grew both day and night: The anger intensified continuously, without respite.
- Bore: Produced or gave birth to.
- Apple bright: Symbolic or metaphorical representation of the result of the speaker’s actions – a tangible and tempting outcome, symbolized by a bright apple.
- Beheld: saw and observed
Explanation: The consequences of harbouring anger are becoming evident. The speaker’s anger takes on the form of a poisonous tree. The tree (suppressed anger) grows continuously until it bears the fruit of a bright apple. The foe notices this development and realizes that the anger belongs to the speaker.
This stanza introduces the metaphor of the poisonous tree, representing the speaker’s growing anger. This stanza personifies anger as a growing plant, fuelled by the speaker’s negative emotions and deceptive behaviour.
The anger, left unaddressed, intensifies over time and becomes more noticeable to others. The “apple bright” symbolizes the tangible outcome or consequence of hidden & harboured resentment.
Summary: This stanza is a powerful metaphor for the destructive nature of suppressed anger. The speaker’s anger, like the poisonous tree, grows and thrives on negative emotions. The apple, a symbol of temptation and deception, represents the allure of anger and the potential for harm it holds. The foe’s awareness of the apple suggests that they are becoming aware of the speaker’s anger and its potential consequences.
The use of metaphors in this stanza is effective in conveying the speaker’s emotional state and the potential dangers of suppressed anger. The imagery of the poisonous tree and the apple is both vivid and unsettling, and it serves to warn readers of the destructive power of anger that is not openly expressed.
Here is a table summarizing the metaphors used in this stanza:
|The speaker’s suppressed anger
|The destructive potential of the speaker’s suppressed anger
|The tempting nature of the speaker’s anger
And into my garden stole,
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see;
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.
- Garden: Metaphorical space representing the speaker’s inner world or personal space, the speaker’s life or emotions..
- Stole: Entered secretly or stealthily.
- Night veiled the pole: Darkness covered the celestial pole, possibly implying nighttime – possibly indicating a metaphorical time of secrecy or concealment.
- Morning glad I see: The speaker finds joy or satisfaction in the morning.
- Foe: An enemy or adversary.
- Outstretched beneath the tree: The foe is lying beneath the tree, suggesting a negative outcome for the adversary.
Explanation: This stanza concludes the poem with a chilling outcome. The foe sneaks into the speaker’s garden under the cover of night. The next morning, the speaker finds foe lying beneath the tree, presumably dead. The speaker experiences a sense of satisfaction and gladness, seeing their foe’s demise as a resolution to their conflict.
This stanza symbolizes the destructive outcome of repressed anger. The poisonous apple represents the speaker’s toxic emotions, which ultimately lead to the enemy’s death. The speaker’s satisfaction suggests a morbid release and a sense of power gained through their enemy’s demise.
The poem concludes with a stark and chilling resolution. The consequences of harbouring anger, nurtured in secrecy, lead to destructive outcomes. The metaphorical tree, now fully grown, becomes the instrument of retribution, resulting in the downfall of the foe.
Summary: The foe sneaks into the speaker’s garden under the cover of night. In the morning, the speaker is pleased to see his foe lying beneath the tree.
The speaker’s suppressed anger has indeed taken a deadly turn. The metaphorical tree, now fully grown, becomes the instrument of retribution, resulting in the downfall of the foe. The secrecy and darkness under which the speaker nurtured his anger has resulted in a tragic downfall.
The poem serves as a stark reminder of the destructive potential of unexpressed emotions and the importance of healthy emotional processing through truthful sharing and communication.
Metaphors and Symbolism in the Poem ‘The Poison Tree
The poem “A Poison Tree” by William Blake employs several powerful metaphors to convey the destructive nature of suppressed anger. These metaphors add depth and complexity to the poem’s meaning, allowing readers to grasp the emotional intensity and potential consequences of unexpressed rage.
|The speaker’s suppressed anger is metaphorically represented by a poisonous tree. This image highlights the toxic and harmful nature of anger that is not openly expressed.
|The apple growing on the poisonous tree symbolizes the destructive potential of the speaker’s suppressed anger. The apple’s tempting appearance contrasts with its deadly nature, much like how suppressed anger can masquerade as harmless yet lead to devastating consequences.
|Watering with tears
|The act of watering the poisonous tree with tears signifies the speaker’s emotional investment in their anger. Their tears, representing their sadness, pain, and resentment, nourish their anger, causing it to grow stronger.
|Sunning with smiles
|The phrase “sunning with smiles” metaphorically depicts the speaker’s deceptive behaviour. They mask their anger with smiles and outward displays of friendliness, concealing the true depth of their rage from others.
These metaphors work together to create a vivid and unsettling portrayal of the dangers of suppressed anger.
The speaker’s anger, personified as the poisonous tree, grows and thrives on their negative emotions, eventually manifesting in a destructive act. The apple, a symbol of temptation and deception, represents the allure of anger and the potential for harm it holds.
The metaphors serve as a stark warning about the consequences of bottling up anger, emphasizing the importance of healthy expression and emotional release.