Nesting somewhere between the two mighty rivers of the Tigris and Euphrates is place where the biblical Garden of Eden is said to have existed. With all of its lush green vegetation and irresistible temptations, it is the birth place of human sin. In William Blake’s metaphoric poem The Poison Tree, he uses imagery to create a deadly version of the Garden of Eden and expose the evil nature of the human heart.
In the first stanza of The Poison Tree, Blake describes being angry with both his friend and his enemy:
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 (1-4).
The Blake’s tells the friend what has angered him and thereby ending his wrath with his friend. They are able to communicate and solve the underlying problem. By confessing his anger to his friend, Blake has freed himself from sin. Ephesians 4: 26-27 states, “In your anger, do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil”. Once the two friends have reconcile, there is harmony and peace again much like the peace that at first existed in the Garden of Eden between Adam, Eve, and all of the creatures. With his enemy, things are different. Blake does not bother to confess his anger. Instead, he keeps it to himself. As a result, that anger is allowed to fester and grow.
The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil grew in the mist of Eden. In the center of Blake’s garden grows the poison tree. The center of Blake’s garden is actually the human heart. It is the human heart that harbors all emotions:
But those things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart and defile a man.
For out of the hart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.
These are the things that defile a man (Matthew 15:18-20).
It is from an angry and corrupted heart that the poison tree grows. The poison tree has been watered both day and not only with tears but with malice and hate:
And I waterd it in fears,
Night & morning with my tears:
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles (5-8).
The fruit from the Tree of Knowledge contained wisdom and knowledge. The produce of the poison tree is a deadly apple:
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 (9-12).
Blake’s apple is bright, red, and beautiful. It is very pleasing to the eye, but it is rotten to the core. Out of hate and anger, Blake has produced this foul fruit:
Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit.
Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.
A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things (Matthew 12:33-36).
In the biblical Garden of Eden, Eve is tempted by a cunning serpent. In Blake’s garden there is no literal serpent, but deceit is still present. By using “soft, deceitful wiles”, the foe is led to Blake’s garden and to his death.
And into my garden stole,
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see;
My foe outstretchd beneath the tree (13-16).
The Poison Tree is a metaphoric poem about the hidden evil of man’s heart. Blake uses imagery to recreate a sinister version of the biblical Garden of Eden and to express the destructive power of concealed wrath.