A Poison Tree is a poem written by William Blake.
The original title of this poem was “Christian Forbearance“. The poem is a fable directed against self-restraint. Blake believed that it was wrong to suppress or thwart one’s natural impulse be it love or hate. Anger in this poem produces the apple of hatred because anger has not been given an outlet.
The speaker has been brooding over the wrong which he believes has been done to him by his enemy. Instead of giving vent to his resentment, he has been cherishing and nursing it and has taken great pains to build up a friendship with his foe. Eventually, the foe meets his death by eating the apple stolen by him out of enmity from the speaker’s garden.
The poem shows the “delight’ of hidden resentment and the revenge taken by the speaker. The speaker is not self-critical in the sense that he deplores his own initial cowardice and eventual deliberate hypocrisy, but he is explicit enough to give a complete description of the poisoning, not only of his enemy but of his own life, soured by suspicion and the anxieties of keeping up a pretence of friendship. His wrath is deliberately fostered in secret.
Eventually, he is victorious in the hidden struggle because he succeeds in getting his enemy to show his spite first – his foe is lured into taking mean revenge, and that, morally, is the end of him. The speaker is too exultant to realize how much damage he has done himself, though he is aware that the triumph is basely taken.
The poem does credit neither to the speaker nor to his victim. Both are malicious and vindictive, and both damn themselves in our eyes. The poem has much psychological value in its exposure to the seamy side of human nature.