A Poison Tree - Synopsis and commentary

Synopsis of A Poison Tree

A Poison Tree

The speaker was angry with a friend, revealed it, and the anger was dispelled. However, anger toward an enemy was not revealed, but nurtured with fears and negative feelings about the ‘foe'. The speaker's growing antipathy was masked by smiles and pretence. It grew into a tree bearing a shiny apple which was desired by the enemy. This foe, therefore, crept into the speaker's garden on a starless night and took the apple, resulting in the enemy's corpse being found the next morning lying beneath the tree.


This poem presents another aspect of the tree growing in the human mind that is found in The Human Abstract. It shows what happens when human energies are labelled ‘bad' and suppressed.

In the first stanza, Blake comments on the need to confront anger. He believed that ‘opposition is true friendship' because it is through conflict that people grow and learn. So when the poem's speaker openly confronts the friend who has aroused his/her anger, the matter is resolved. Conventional social behaviour might condemn such confrontation – it was deemed better to ‘swallow your anger'. However, repressing the speaker's anger towards an enemy means that it germinates and becomes an obsession, like an apple seed falling onto fertile soil. Blake's readers would be aware of the conventional biblical teaching on this - see Anger

Blake stresses the ‘wrath' / ‘plant' metaphor here. The speaker's deception produces fruit that seems attractive to his enemy. It is as though the smiles and wiles have created attractive ‘bait' which the foe now desires for him/herself. The apple has attracted the selfish, covetous love of the speaker's enemy, just as the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil attracted the covetous desire of Eve. See Fruit, pruning.

The foe dies after eating the apple because it represented the speaker's deceptive affection, but was actually the fruit of anger and hatred. Blake's point is that the enemy has been seduced by a socially acceptable outward appearance, which conceals a poisonous and death-dealing relationship. The enemy, too, is deceitful. He steals the fruit, motivated by his own covetousness, knowing that the apple belonged to another and its loss would be felt. For Blake, it was the repression of instinctive desires, so that they became distorted and ‘poisonous', that was at fault, rather than having those desires in the first place.

Investigating A Poison Tree

  • In a poem of plot and counter plot, what does the word ‘glad' tell you about the picture of humanity being painted here?
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