Reader-Response Critical Approach Towards Analysing William Blake's "A Poison Tree"

Written by Adeyemi Joshua |
Published on:

By Adeyemi Joshua. 

In my own view, William Blake's "A Poison Tree" is an allegorical piece: painting a particular picture that  contains another impression or concept, though related to it. 

   The title of the Poem only already possess a power of commanding and arresting attention. The image of a particular tree that is poisonous is presented by Blake. Perhaps, no one knows whay inspired him to choose that title as what befit the piece ,but prior to this literary theory I.e "Reader-Response Critical theory", laying emphasis on this is of no use because the reflection of the reader on the piece is to be noted and highly revered. 

   Let the Analysis begins: Starting from the title,  "A Poison Tree", their is a precise impression it gives to me: an evil tree that has fruits that contain venomous poison to harm . What makes the tree poisonous is not known until the exploration of the poem. Perhaps, it was infected by unknown Venus and Mars, or witches or any supernatural force. But what is glaring is that it is "A Poison Tree". 

      The ability of Blake to draw the picture at the title and maintain its attributes and growing throughout the lines of the poem as well as painting it to the last line is appraised. 

    Is this poison Tree truly a  tree or a symbolic representation of a veiled phenomenon or  object? 

     This is the question that unveils to me that this poem is truly allegorical and is  used to represent the poet himself or using himself as a mirror (reflection)  of the persons that lived back then in his age or even as  search-light pointed deep down to lit our own generation. 

    With this analysis, I would be asking couple of questions which shall be the basis of the literary criticism of "A Poison Tree" By William Blake at the level of "Reader-Response Critical Theory ". 

     Before my questions, I write out the first stanza with an eye of analysis:

      " 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.... "

     A question seems to be answered by the first line of this poem. What makes the poison tree poisonous is anger, but how affective is the anger on the second person whom he professed to be his enemy than on his friend. 

    And now, my question begins : What makes your enemy a foe to you and your friend, a friend to you. Don't you know that "Your best friend is someone's enemy and your enemy, someone's best friend? "

     Blake was angry with his friend, because he was his professed friend, he told  him (perhaps, the friend begged him) and that was the end. But when his enemy offends him, he wouldn't tell him. Why?. Isn't the enemy a human he can relate his matter to too? And because he wouldn't tell him, the Iota of wickedness fertilizes the anger and then germination thrives. 

    It continues :

           "... And I watered it in fears

       Night and morning with my tears, 

            And I sunned it with smiles

           And with soft deceitful wiles..."

    Any tree planted need exposure to sun and rain to continue growing. Blake's tree also needs these which he had. There is down pour of fears on the anger(the tree)  and heat of smiles relentlessly, as seen in... 

         "... Night and morning.... " line 6

   But Blake would not stop there despite the commuting of summer and winter, autumn and spring, but would continue investing the worst assest to cause bankrupt of the life of the professed enemy. 

     Line 9 - 12, describes the progression of the  germination till the fruit of  mischief is begotten by the already poisonous tree that accurately will have a poisonous fruit. Blake take delight in the use of parabolic illustrations  in the coining of the lines and in his link of thoughts. 

    There is an irony that line 10 tosses to me:

    "... Till it bore an APPLE BRIGHT... "

    Really? An apple bright with a venom inside: A job offer in Blake's company for the man to drive on death's highway, or work in the section of "cut" and "lift" ​​​​​? Sure, the foe knows the apple is Blake's but since he wouldn't give him willingly, he Has to : 

        "... And into my garden stole

     When the night had veiled the pole:

             In the morning, glad I see

   My foe outstretched beneath the tree."

     The foe has to steal into the company (garden) to make ends meet for him and  his family. But  by conspiration, Blake orders his execution, and by the daylight he is happy seeing his company responsible for the death of his long-hunt-foe. It is a severe death that avails the foe an horrific death.... 

        .​​​​​​.... Outstretched...

      Blake has said his, but is he truly the poison tree? 

     Of a truth, you are the poison tree, I am the poison tree, every mortal is the poison tree  because we all possess the Iota of wickedness in us .We tend to choose some people as our friends and relegate some as our enemies. What makes your enemy a foe and your friend an Angel? 

     Answer me this, you want to  tell  me that your friend has never done you evil greater than the one done by your enemy and your enemy has never done you slice of good before? 

     Why do you complain to your friend and make reconciliation? Why can't you do  same to your enemy ?

    Do you know the number of people you've fed with your poison fruit: seeing them  hop into the potholes you're dodging, seeing them work where you know is evil because he stepped out of his bound crushing your so called nerves? 

     Blake with "A Poison Tree " has portrayed to us what you do and the outcome. Don't  forget that the poison tree was not fell after the foe has eaten from it. Who knows who'll fall culprit next ?

    Being free with everyone saves you of many stresses in life. This is what William Blake's "A Poison Tree" infer to me. But don't forget that:

     "Your best friend is someone's enemy, and your enemy, someone's best friend"


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Author: Adeyemi Joshua
Born on the 7th June, Joshua, is a surviving poet, a student and purposed individual. Currently a student in Adeniran Ogunsanya College Of Education, Lagos State, Nigeria.


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