What Does the Speaker Observe in Night

What Does the Speaker Observe in Night


A disquisitional reading of a classic poem – analysed by Dr Oliver Tearle

‘A Poison Tree’, one of the nearly famous poems by William Blake (1757-1827), was commencement published in Blake’s 1794 book
Songs of Experience. Beneath we offering some words of analysis on this classic poem.

A Toxicant Tree

I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did finish.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I watered information technology in fears.
Dark and forenoon with my tears:
And I sunned it with smiles.
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And information technology grew both twenty-four hour period 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 dark had veild the pole;
In the morning glad I run across;
My foe outstretchd beneath the tree.

A Poisonous substance Tree: summary

Blake originally gave ‘A Poison Tree’ the title ‘Christian Abstinence’. More on the significance of that earlier title below.

In summary, the speaker of the poem tells us that when he was aroused with his friend he simply told his friend that he was bellyaching, and that put an end to his bad feeling. Simply when he was angry with his
enemy, he didn’t air his grievance to this foe, and so the anger grew. Whereas we can trust our friends with our true feelings and exist honest with them (Blake elsewhere famously said that ‘Opposition is true friendship’), a foe is someone who – almost past definition – we cannot exist and so honest with.

In the second stanza, Blake turns to the central, championship metaphor of his poem, likening his anger to a tree that he ‘watered’ with fear and resentment. And then, more curiously, he says that the false ‘smiles’ he put on whenever he saw his enemy acted similar sunlight helping a tree to grow: by bottling up his acrimony he made information technology worse, and by putting on ‘soft deceitful wiles’ (i.e. tricks and cover-ups to hibernate his true feelings), his anger continued to abound and morphed into something more devious: the demand for vengeance. He is smile at his enemy while all the while he is (inwardly and secretly) plotting his revenge.

Why? The implication of this ‘poison tree’ is that anger and hatred start to eat away at oneself: hatred e’er turns inwards, corrupting into self-hatred. The Blake scholar D. G. Gillham, in his informative and fascinating study of Blake’southward poetry,
Blake’southward Contrary States: The ‘Songs of Innocence and Experience’ as Dramatic Poems
, has observed that it is non but the speaker’southward foe who is poisoned by the speaker’south deportment: the act of poisoning his enemy diminishes and corrupts him, too. The brooding enmity and resentment borne past both parties non simply diminish the other political party just rebound upon the bearer: hatred eats away at us every bit much as information technology affects our foes.

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Because the speaker was forced to hide his acrimony, it made him act in a deceitful and faux way, and thus his anger for his friend led him to despise himself for being driven to act deceitfully.

And it grew both day and night.
Till information technology bore an apple tree bright.
And my foe beheld it shine.
And he knew that it was mine.

In this third stanza, an apple sprouts from this poison tree of anger. This ‘apple bright’ attracts the attending of his enemy, who and so sneaked into the speaker’s garden one night and ate the apple from this tree; when the speaker finds his enemy the next morning, his foe is lying expressionless nether the tree, having eaten the poisoned fruit.

A Poison Tree: analysis

This powerful and curious trivial poem is about the ability of acrimony to become corrupted into something far more than mortiferous and devious if it is not aired honestly. The enemy may have stolen the apple (and trespassed on the speaker’s property – he ‘stole’ into his garden, after all), but he was deceived into thinking that something deadly and poisonous (the speaker’s acrimony) was something nice and tasty (the apple).

In other words, both the speaker and his foe are deluded: the speaker because he seems unaware that he has diminished himself by his actions, and the foe considering he little realised that the apple he stole was poisoned. Since the apple represents human enmity and resentment, the line ‘And he knew that it was mine’ resonates with biting irony, because in actual fact both the foe and the speaker fail to realise that the poisoned apple tree has infected both of them, and belongs to them jointly. Their mutual hatred has corrupted them both.

And I watered it in fears.
Night and morn with my tears:
And I sunned information technology with smiles.
And with soft mendacious wiles.

What are we to make of this rather involved metaphor? One possible interpretation is as follows: Blake is maxim that repressing our righteous anger makes usa scheme into finding underhand means to become back at our enemies, and – consciously or unconsciously – we end up setting traps for our enemies in order to bring them down.

The fact that the speaker has ‘sunned’ his tree with smiles (considering we talk of sunny smiles, and both the dominicus and smiles being
beaming, etc.) implies that putting on a friendly forepart and existence two-faced towards our enemies grows the tree in ways we trivial sympathise. Pouring our anger – our sense of having been wronged – into the ground (implying suppression or even repression) like watering the soil is simply a way of breeding more unhappiness, non a way to solve or cure the hurt we feel. Only by bringing such hurt out into the open and confronting our foe with information technology can nosotros hope to cure ourselves of it.

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In other words, Blake does not condemn acrimony every bit invariably cocky-destructive, or even detest: sometimes it is correct to detest things which seem to set on our moral sensibilities. Simply such (righteous) antipathy and acrimony become corrupted when they lead us to deceive, considering such behaviour reduces our ain moral constitution.

Does the finish of the poem represent the speaker’s triumph over his foe in positive terms? Peradventure, but it is a mixed victory. He was succeeded in defeating his enemy because his foe has shown his hand beginning: his enemy’due south deceitful behaviour in sneaking into the speaker’s garden to steal the apple causes the foe’south downfall, leaving the speaker victorious and his enemy destroyed. How far this represents a positive victory for the speaker, who could just bring about his enemy’s downfall by being deceptive himself, is an open up question which deserves close analysis and give-and-take.

Ultimately, it depends on our ain perspective on issues of vengeance and retribution. In terms of Blake’south ain view on the matter, it is perhaps enough to observe that he originally planned to phone call the poem ‘Christian Abstinence’ before deciding on the less patently religious ‘A Poison Tree’. Every bit Gillham observes in
Blake’s Opposite States: The ‘Songs of Innocence and Experience’ as Dramatic Poems
, this title shows Blake’s spinous distrust of the idea of Christian abstinence, because, for Blake, it amounted to cowardice and hypocrisy: refusing to stand to your enemies and instead resorting to more underhand ways to assault them, only carried out under the proper name of pious Christianity.

Nevertheless, the apple comes with its own Christian symbolism. The apple represents such wily and devious vengeance: it is pregnant that it is an apple that grows from Blake’s poisonous substance tree, and that the speaker’due south enemy steals the apple, because this conjures upward the Genesis story of Adam and Eve being deceitfully persuaded to eat the fruit from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge. Satan, bearded as a serpent, is the one responsible for cajoling Eve into eating the fruit, which is commonly depicted every bit an apple, like the apple in Blake’s poem. The Autumn of Adam and Eve takes place, of course, in the paradise that is the Garden of Eden; Blake’s Edenic ‘garden’ is where his enemy meets his end. These parallels heighten Blake’south parable of repressed anger and vengeance to Biblical heights.

‘A Poison Tree’ is written in quatrains or four-line stanzas rhymedaabb(i.east. rhyming couplets). The metre of the poem is what is technically known equally trochaic tetrameter catalectic. This means that the metre used is the trochee: a stressed syllable followed past an unstressed syllable, east.g. in the line ‘And he knew that it was mine’ the stresses are as follows: ‘AND he / KNEW that / Information technology was / MINE’. At that place are 4 such trochees in a line, hence tetrameter.

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But note that the quaternary and terminal trochee is cutting brusque: the 2nd half of it is missing. Rather than writing, for instance, ‘And he knew that information technology was mine, O’ (or something similar), Blake just writes, ‘And he knew that information technology was mine’, cutting short the line earlier we get the eighth syllable. This gives the poem a clipped, even sharp feel, which is reinforced by the short sentences and frequent use of full stops.

‘A Poison Tree’ is one of English literature’s most striking explorations of the corrupting effects of anger. Information technology is one of William Blake’s miniature masterpieces. What exercise y’all think of ‘A Poison Tree’, and what would you add to our analysis?

About William Blake

William Blake (1757-1827) is i of the central English poets of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. He is sometimes grouped with the Romantics, such equally William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, although much of his piece of work stands apart from them and he worked separately from the Lake Poets.

Blake’s key themes are faith (verses from his verse form
Milton
furnished the lyrics for the patriotic English hymn ‘Jerusalem’), poverty and the poor, and the plight of the most downtrodden or oppressed inside society. He is non a ‘nature’ poet in the aforementioned fashion that his boyfriend Romantics are: he seldom writes with the countryside in mind as his chief theme, but draws on, for instance, the rich symbolism of the rose and the worm to create a poem that is symbolically suggestive and clearly virtually other things (sin, religion, shame, cruelty, evil).

In form and linguistic communication, Blake’s poetry tin can announced deceptively simple. He is fond of the quatrain form and short lines (normally tetrameter, i.eastward., containing four ‘feet’). But his imagery and symbolism are oftentimes dense and circuitous, requiring deeper analysis to penetrate and unravel their manifold meanings.

Go on to explore the earth of Blake’s poetry with our analysis of ‘The Lamb’, our overview of his verse form known as ‘Jerusalem’, and his scathing indictment of poverty and misery in London. If you’re looking for a good edition of Blake’due south work, nosotros recommend

Selected Poetry (Oxford World’s Classics)

. We’ve offered more tips for the close reading of poetry here.

The author of this article, Dr Oliver Tearle, is a literary critic and lecturer in English at Loughborough Academy. He is the author of, among others,
The Surreptitious Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History

and
The Dandy War, The Waste Land and the Modernist Long Poem.

Paradigm: William Blake’s illustration for ‘A Poison Tree’, via Wikimedia Commons.






What Does the Speaker Observe in Night

Source: https://interestingliterature.com/2016/11/a-short-analysis-of-william-blakes-a-poison-tree/