A Poison Tree by 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 watered it in fears,
Night and morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with 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 veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.


Here in this poem, William Blake warns of the consequences of retaining the vice of hate and voices how feelings brought forth by conflict should be resolved; by presenting the effects of ‘bottled up’ malice through metaphor. Blake highlights how the hate of a ‘foe’ can utterly consume us as opposed to voicing our disappointment with a ‘friend’ who upsets us in some way. The first stanza points out that abandoning communication when angry will only result in more anger in the future; and the speaker does this by using an anecdote of a time when – they say – ‘I was angry with my foe: / I told it not, my wrath did grow.’

The second stanza goes on to reveal the duality that such internal malice can bring about, the speaker ‘watered [their wrath] with fears’ and tears but also ‘sunned it with smiles’; pointing out the extremities such hate can make us feel. This is where the parallel between this contained malice and a poison tree really begins, with Blake depicting wrath as something that can be ‘watered’ and ‘sunned’ and if it is, it will continue to grow to colossal heights and even out of control. If we consider our own personal breadth of emotion to be comparable to the way in which a tree grows, and wrath as the vice that poisons that tree, the third stanza depicts the malicious infection spreading and embedding itself as a part of the body of the tree. The tree is said to ‘grow both day and night, / Till it bore an apple bright’, that the foe wishes to steal and eat as it is property of the speaker. The result of the foe going into the speaker’s metaphorical garden and stealing the apple is an unsettling one for the reader, even more so when the speaker confesses that ‘in the morning glad I see / My foe outstretched beneath the tree.’

The final lines of Blake’s poem hit the reader rather hard with the message that he has taken effort to convey. The speaker has emerged triumphant over their foe but at impossibly high costs; the apple that had grown from the speaker’s hate served to kill the one who ate it. ‘A Poison Tree’ is Blake’s warning to the reader about what such poisoned anger can result in, and such an emotion can inevitably poison our minds if ‘watered’ to grow. Releasing emotions through discussion and conversation is a vital action before they fester into a tragic conclusion for both parties.


William Blake (1757-1827)

William Blake (1757-1827)