A Poison Tree by William Blake

Teacher Guide by Bridget Baudinet

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A Poison Tree Lesson Plans

Student Activities for A Poison Tree Include:

”A Poison Tree” was published in William Blake’s 1794 poetry collection entitled Songs of Experience. As the title of the collection suggests, “A Poison Tree” delves into the darker side of the human mind, addressing the catastrophic results of suppressed anger. The poem relies on the metaphor of a tree and its poisoned fruit to assert that anger grows more powerful the longer it is bottled up. “A Poison Tree” explores the damage that anger does both to the individuals feeling anger and to the people around them. Students may find that this 200-year-old poem is still quite relevant to their lives today.

A Poison Tree Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

“A Poison Tree” Paraphrase

One way to increase student understanding of difficult poems is to ask them to paraphrase stanza by stanza. Storyboards can be a good way for struggling students to visualize the events in each stanza. For “A Poison Tree”, have students depict the main events of each of the four stanzas. Then, below each image, ask them to write a brief paraphrase of the stanza using proper grammar and appropriate transitional words and phrases.

“A Poison Tree” Paraphrase

1st Stanza

The speaker tells his friend what has upset him, they work it out, and the speaker is no longer angry. The speaker doesn't tell his enemy what makes him angry. When he bottles it up, his anger increases.

2nd Stanza

The speaker imagines reasons to fear his enemy. His fears and frustrations increase his animosity. But the speaker is not honest with his enemy. He smiles at him and acts friendly, building up a deceitful relationship lacking in trust.

3rd Stanza

The speaker’s anger is like a glittering poison that attracts both the speaker and his enemy. Anger and hate become appealing to the speaker, and his enemy is fooled by his deceitful behavior.

4th Stanza

The enemy tries to take advantage of the speaker, but the speaker is one step ahead of him. The speaker’s secret anger poisons and kills his enemy.

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“A Poison Tree” Allusions Analysis

“A Poison Tree” makes a number of allusions to the biblical story of Adam and Eve, told in Chapter 3 of the book of Genesis. Understanding the connections between elements of Blake’s poem and the biblical story will help students read the poem on a deeper level. To guide their comprehension, students can set up a storyboard identifying elements of “A Poison Tree” that allude to the Genesis story. Below each storyboard depiction, students should explain the allusion’s connection to the poem’s message.

For a variation of this assignment, have students use storyboards to identify and explain the poem’s metaphors instead of its allusions. Students can depict the intended meaning of the following words and phrases: “waterd it in fears”, “sunned it with smiles”, “apple”, “apple tree”, “garden”.

“A Poison Tree” Allusions

Apple Tree

The tree that "bore an apple bright" calls to mind the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. Its fruit, which God forbids Adam and Eve from eating, is traditionally referred to as an apple.


The speaker who lures his enemy into the garden and tempts him to eat the apple is like the serpent in Eden. This suggests that the speaker’s anger has filled him with evil and led him to resemble the devil.


The speaker's foe is like Adam and Eve. Although they are helped by the serpent, they are still guilty of disobedience. The speaker's foe is not innocent either. He sneaks into the garden and eats the apple without permission.


In the poem, as in Genesis, the fruit represents sin and death. In both cases, the sin is the cause of death.

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“A Poison Tree” TPCASTT Analysis

Copy Assignment

TPCASTT Example for “A Poison Tree”



The poem will be about a mystical tree that poisons everything around it.


The speaker bottles up his anger toward his enemy. He presents a false front and acts nicely toward the enemy while cursing him in his head. Eventually, his anger and deceit lead to tragedy. The enemy dies, and the speaker's corrupted moral compass causes him to feel a twisted happiness at this result.


The man's anger is considered a poison. The tree and the apple are poisonous growths that, like anger, can kill.


Blake uses words like "wrath", "foe", "deceitful", "wiles", and "stole" to convey the dark emotions of the poem. The speaker has a sinister and venomous tone.


A shift occurs in the first stanza when the speaker goes from telling his anger to keeping it in. The poem gradually grows more sinister as it progresses from this point. The sentence lengths in the first stanza are short and simple, but they later increase as the speaker's wrath becomes more intense and his lies more frequent.


After reading the poem, I realize that the tree is a symbol of the speaker's anger. As the speaker dwells on his anger, the tree grows poisonous fruit, suggesting that anger produces dangerous results.


Expressing our emotions is a healthy way the deal with conflict.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Perform a TPCASTT analysis of “A Poison Tree”. Remember that TPCASTT stands for Title, Paraphrase, Connotation, Attitude/Tone, Shift, Title, Theme.

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Choose any combination of scenes, characters, items, and text to represent each letter of TPCASTT.
  3. Write a few sentences describing the importance or meaning of the images.
  4. Finalize images, edit, and proofread your work.
  5. Save and submit storyboard to assignment.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Background Information

Blake published his first book of poetry, Songs of Innocence in 1789. The poems dealt with lighthearted topics and celebrated the simple joys of human existence. Five years later, he published Songs of Experience, which addressed the darker aspects of life. In Songs of Experience, Blake focuses on mankind’s fallen nature and the various failings and sufferings that plague the human race. His poem “A Poison Tree” highlights the damaging effects of anger and deceit and specifically contradicts the anger management etiquette of his contemporaries. In the 1700s, many Westerners considered anger an impolite sentiment and encouraged one another to suppress their anger. Blake disagreed with this practice and believed that suppressing one’s anger led to increased emotional disturbance. In “A Poison Tree”, originally entitled “Christian Forbearance”, Blake implies that the healthy practice is to express one’s anger frankly and move on.

To fully understand “A Poison Tree”, many students will find it helpful to review the biblical story of Adam and Eve. The poem contains a number of allusions to Chapter 3 of the book of Genesis. In the story, Adam and Eve eat from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge. After disobeying God by eating the fruit of the tree, Adam and Eve gain new knowledge, but at a high price. As a result of their first sin, they are banished from the Garden of Eden and lose the peaceful, immortal existence they had led there. Instead, they face suffering and eventual death. The knowledge that Adam and Eve gain by eating the fruit is a kind that strips them of the peaceful innocence that had previously known. In this way, their story echoes Blake’s emphasis in Songs of Experience. Experience, like the fruit, leads to pain and even death. The link between Blake’s “poison tree” and the story of Adam and Eve continues in the poem’s symbolically poisonous apple, the use of the garden setting, and the snake-like sibilance of the alliterative “s” sounds. Students intrigued by “A Poison Tree” will find further discussion of this metaphorical tree and humanity’s fallen nature in Blake’s poem, “The Divine Image.”

Essential Questions for “A Poison Tree”

  1. What does the poem say about revenge?
  2. Why is anger like a poison?
  3. How does the metaphor of a living tree affect the message of the poem?

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