Sunday, February 24, 2008

Poem of the Day: William Blake / The Poison Tree

William Blake (1757-1827) was a poet, printer, artist, and free spirit. He started out as an engraver and artist, then became a printer and poet. Blake challenged the traditional views of religion, morality and was considered idiosyncratic and mad by most of the artistic establishment in England.Blake often used visual artistry and poetry in tandem to convey his artistic vision. Blake's painting at left is from The Song of Los, one of Blake's "illuminated books".

The Poison Tree

William Blake

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.

And I water'd it in fears,
Night & morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with my smiles
And with soft deceitful wiles.

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,

And into my garden stole
When the night had veil'd the pole:
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretch'd beneath the tree


vanessa said...

Although overflowing the religious allusions, “The Poison Tree” is a universal morsel of guidance against enmity and pent-up emotion. The straightforward diction, simplistic AABB rhyme scheme, and broad message make Blake’s poem applicable from the bible story of Adam and Eve to a hurtful high school rumor. Blake implies that enemies are deceitful to one another. When I read, “And I sunned it with my smiles and with soft deceitful wiles,” I think of the enemy who pretends to be a friend and surreptitiously waters the seed of jealousy or vengeance or whatever source of hate that exists. The poison tree is a personification of slowly growing anathema and the apple is ironically the fruit of labor, but also the fruit of sin. But the common point of view of the Tree of Knowledge Story is through Adam and Eve. Blake reverses the Bible story through the point of view of the snake that allures the “enemy” (Adam/ Eve) with the “apple bright.” As a result, the reader almost pities the enemy who ate the apple, especially after the speaker was glad to see his nemesis dead after eating the apple of his wrath. Does William Blake reverse the common story of Adam and Eve in order to portray man as the good guy to contradict what the Church mandates as morally correct? Considering short biography of William Blake, “The Poison Tree” is probably a diatribe against the Church. Blake lived during the end of the Enlightenment, when the Catholic Church was extremely repressive in an attempt to regain control it lost during the Bubonic Plague. Is the church the fruit bearer of sins and the churchgoers the innocent people who eat the fruit and suffer?

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...


Interesting thoughts Vanessa! The alternative view on the church's teachings, in which man is the victim rather than the true sinner, certainly seems plausible. It's excellent to put the poem in a historical context to illustrate the underlying themes, but I feel as if the poem is merely acting parallel to the story of Adam and Eve while actually focusing on humanity, emotions, and perhaps wickedness.

I also feel that we should look at the first four lines to delve additionally into the meaning of the poem. He suggests that bottling up our strongest emotions only intensifies them while making these emotions known alleviates them. This could partly be because the wrath is told to the friend, one more forgivable and understanding, while it remains hidden from the enemy, allowing the speaker's perceptions and thoughts to build upon the initial hate, much as one deep in contemplation during depression merely exacerbates the problem. This poem to me suggests a speaker who broods and dwells, experiencing fear, sorrow, and anger while becoming devious and secretive. It speaks almost of emotional corruption, rather a didactic tale against foolish anger and acting on strong negative feelings.

Byrne's English12AP said...

Wow! Charles & Vanessa, very insightful comments.

I believe it is telling that Blake was constantly at odds wiht the church, who held such power over England at the time.

I like Charles's idea of emotional corruption stemming from unacknowledged feelings. I also like the change-up pitch he throws at the church in placing man as the wiser entity over clergy.

I think Blake is trying to allude to the idea that man has innate knowldege that can't be confined to theologic constraints. It seems Blake has an idea that man was a naturally wise being, with an inherent sense of innocence and perfection that supercedes the ideals and structural constraints of dogma.

We will probably read more of Blake, in his Songs of Innocence and Expereince.

Excellent posts!