Department of English

Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University

2202242  Introduction to the Study of English Poetry



Midterm Discussion





A 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 waterd it in fears, 5
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, 10
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine,
And into my garden stole
When the night had veild the pole.
In the morning glad I see 15
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.


"A Poison Tree" Notes

wrath (Merriam-Webster)

1: strong vengeful anger or indignation 

2: retributory punishment for an offense or a crime: divine chastisement

foe (Merriam-Webster)

1: one who has personal enmity for another

2 a: an enemy in war b: adversary opponent

3: one who opposes on principle <a foe of needless expenditures>

4: something prejudicial or injurious


wiles: tricks or stratagems intended to ensnare or deceive (Merriam-Webster)


11  beheld

behold (Merriam-Webster)

transitive verb 

1: to perceive through sight or apprehension: see

2: to gaze upon: observe 

intransitive verb

used in the imperative especially to call attention

14  pole: sky


Read the poem and answer the questions which follow.


1.  (1 point)  What does the poem say about the nature of anger in the contrastive scenarios regarding friend and foe?





Student answer 1


When you are angry with a friend, you can express those angers and rid of it from your mind, but when anger is targeted towards an enemy and you keep the feeling inside, it grows and grows and can potentially become very destructive and dangerous.


Student answer 2: Does not address the contrasting cases of anger when it involves a friend versus when it involves an enemy. 


The nature of anger is like a poison tree.  I [sic] will grow in your heart and produce destruction for other people.



2.  (1 points)  What other poem that we have encountered also alludes to the Garden of Eden?


Robert Frost's "Nothing Gold Can Stay" alludes to the fall of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden in the line "So Eden sank to grief."



3.  (6 points)  Does Blake's biblical allusion present the foe as like or unlike the innocent Eve?  What role does the foe play in making the speaker's plot work?





4.  (6 points)  What does the apple represent?  Why are the images of the apple and the tree appropriate?





5.  (6 points)  Discuss the understated final line.  What impact does it have on the message of the poem?  What comment does it make on the speaker?  How does it conclude the transformation of wrath throughout the stanzas?








William Blake





Some books on William Blake at Chula

Lindsay, Jack.  William Blake: His Life and Work.  London: Constable, 1978. (CL 92 B636L)


Nicoll, Allardyce.  William Blake and His Poetry.  London: Harrap, 1922. (CL stack 92 B636N)

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Last updated January 25, 2008