A Poison Tree - Imagery, symbolism and themes

Imagery and symbolism

Soft – When allied with ‘wiles', this implies a sense of luxurious pleasure taken by the speaker as s/he seeks to deceive the enemy

Tree – As in The Human Abstract, the tree growing in A Poison Tree is an all-encompassing growth in the mind which is dark, evil and deceitful, resulting in physical and spiritual death.

Apple – The reference to an ‘apple bright' alludes to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. Though not specified in the Bible, this fruit was traditionally held to be an apple. Adam and Eve were told by God not to eat it. However, Eve was tempted to eat the fruit by the deceit of the devil, who was in the form of a serpent, so ate it along with Adam. As a result, they fell from innocence, were cast out of Eden and experienced mortality. (See Big ideas from the Bible > Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, Second Adam.)

According to Blake, the Fall of Adam and Eve was not a fall into sin. It was a fall into a perverted way of seeing God, the world and the self. It resulted in the development of a God in humankind's image, who was vengeful, punitive and bloodthirsty. It caused people to see themselves as separate, isolated selves who needed to be protected. This self must also ‘fight its own corner' and put itself first. The tree in the poem grows in the garden of the mind and produces fruit of nurtured anger, jealousy and cruelty.

Investigating imagery and symbolism

  • Look at the image of the tree in The Human Abstract
    • Do you see any links with the tree in this poem?


Snares, confinement

Images of confinement abound in the Songs. Blake the radical opposed the coercive strictures of the ‘Establishment' – the state, organised religion etc. – which sought to quantify and rule all aspects of human behaviour. He also opposed conventional morality when it confined the natural instincts of humanity. In A Poison Tree, Blake opposes the conventional idea that anger should not be expressed, and illustrates the distorting effect this has on the human soul. The resulting perverted outlook then creates snares for others (seen also in The Human Abstract).

However, he also saw that the human spirit was frequently the author of its own imprisonment, creating its own ‘mind forg'd manacles'. It was because fallen humankind could no longer see truly that Blake the visionary needed to illustrate what he perceived as the truth about the creation and humanity's role within it.

The effects of the Fall

  • Those who have fallen into divided selfhood see the creator only in terms of their own capacity for jealousy, cruelty and possessiveness. They create an image of God who is a tyrannical ruler and must be appeased
  • The fall of humankind affects human relationships because divided selfhood sees itself at the centre of its world as something to be protected and defended. Its pleasures must be jealously defended and denied to others. One chief pleasure is exerting control over others, which can often masquerade as showing love.

Investigating themes

  • Are there any other poems which seem to you to be closely linked to the theme of traps and imprisonment?
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