Sunday, 17 April 2016


William  Blake
William Blake was born in 1757 and was originally an engraver. He began adding text to his engravings in the form of poems and he was interested as much in the presentation of poems as the poems themselves. In 1789 he published an illustrated set of poems called Songs of Innocence and in 1793 followed this with Songs of Experience (from which A Poison Tree comes). The following year, he combined these two sets of poems, publishing as Songs of Innocence and Experience Showing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul.
The first set of poems is, therefore, generally hopeful and positive while the second set tends to be more negative and pessimistic.
Blake was a deeply religious man and this shows in the moral nature of his work. His poetry was not really well-regarded during his own life. Today he is regarded as a man ahead of his time and he is now thought of as a major poetic writer.

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,
Night & 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.
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;
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

Linda R. Ranieri
West Chester University
Explication of William Blake’s
"A Poison Tree" (1794)

William Blake’s "A Poison Tree" (1794) stands as one of his most intriguing poems, memorable for its vengeful feel and sinister act of deceit.  Blake wants to impart a moral lesson here, pointing of course to the experience we gain in our human existence at the cost of our innocence. With this poem, he suggests that holding a grudge (suppressed anger left unchecked) can be fatal to the self as well as the object of wrath. Through images, punctuation, and word choice, Blake warns that remaining silent about our anger only hinders personal and spiritual growth, making us bitter, and that a grudge left unchecked becomes dangerous, even murderous.

 Stanza 1 :
Blake comments on the need to confront a problem if peace and happiness are to prevail. When the speaker "tells" his wrath, it "ends," but when he "tells it not," his anger "grows." Like an apple seed falling onto fertile soil, the speaker’s repressed anger germinates and becomes the one obsession in his life. In the first couplet, Blake conveys the image of a plant being uprooted, nipping in the bud (as it were) a misunderstanding between the speaker and his friend. In sharp contrast, the speaker holds back from admitting anger to his foe in the following couplet, allowing it to fester within. With simple language, Blake neatly establishes the root of the poem, ending this first stanza with the foreshadowing "grow" (4).

Stanza 2:
It depicts the speaker’s treatment and nurturing behavior towards his internalized wrath, as he tends to it like a beloved plant; here, Blake stresses the "wrath = plant" metaphor that is inherent to the poem. His anger becomes a living entity that he "waters" and "suns" with "tears" and "wiles," and making it to grow "both night and day" (9), hinting at his unfolding scheme against his foe. In describing his attentive care towards this wrath/plant, the speaker unintentionally reveals his unnatural obsession with getting revenge, while pointing to the slowly emerging anger as a force of its own that slowly consumes the speaker.

Stanza 3:
The speaker’s vigilance results in "an apple bright" (10) in the third stanza – similar to the apple from the Tree of Forbidden Knowledge, this fruit stands at once as a harbinger of danger and a tantalizing temptation for the speaker’s unsuspecting foe. The speaker becomes the Serpent that tempted Eve, capitalizing on and exploiting the Deadly Sin of Envy by allowing his foe to "behold its shine" (11). The crafty speaker brags about reading his foe’s mind: "And my foe beheld it shine, / and he knew that it was mine" (11-12), implying the ease with which he could fool his enemy by taking advantage of his foe’s natural curiosity and covetousness. Blake ends this stanza with a comma instead of a period, accelerating the fatal line of action into the fourth and final stanza, filling the reader with dread and anticipation.
The foe falls for the ruse, deceptive in his own right as he stealthily slips into the speaker’s garden to steal the shiny object (and proving the speaker’s suspicions right). Blake combines the acts of breaking and entering and of theft into the word "stole" at the end of Line 13 (an ironic line choice, too, if one is superstitious), with no ending punctuation that would let the reader hesitate or stop for a breath.

And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine,
And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole:
(Lines 11-14)
Stanza 4:

When taken together, these four lines powerfully sweep the reader into the poem’s climax. Under veil of night, envy and curiosity get the better of the foe – as the speaker foresaw – sneaking into the garden as darkness envelopes the "pole" or tree, implying that whatever the foe’s intentions, they will remain unknown. The reader waits with anticipation and dread for the final blow, knowing what will come yet wanting to see how ends. Blake further adds to the drama by ending Line 14 with a colon, setting up the reader for what s/he thinks will be the poem’s most powerful image.

Yet the reader does not learn what happens to the foe. The final image conveyed in the last couplet is of the foe lying "outstretched beneath the tree" (16), breaking the poem’s flow of action by flashing forward to the following morning. With the dawn comes the poem’s resolution: the speaker is "glad [to] see" his foe dead, apparently from ingesting the poison apple. The speaker seems satisfied that his scheme of deception has worked, getting rid of his source of wrath by poisoning it with his unchecked anger and desire for revenge.

But why does Blake omit the murder scene from the story? Perhaps he wants to emphasize the murderous means the speaker has taken to avenge himself of his enemy. More accurately, Blake reflects the speaker’s frame of mind in this omission: as he wants to kill his enemy, he also wishes to kill his conscience, blotting out the act of murder as he blots out the source of his irrational anger. The speaker realizes he is morally wrong, but gets so caught up in the moment and the seeming brilliance of his scheme that cannot stop himself from seeing it through. Unchecked anger drives the speaker to commit this murderous act, anger he cannot or refuses to acknowledge from the start of the poem. The mortal sin of murder will forever stain his hands – he cannot go on with living unless he suppresses the event, as he did his wrath.

"A Poison Tree" is a  confession without actually naming or describing the crime itself. The speaker takes the time to brag about how he implemented his plan, without admitting his crime. Thus this poem’s impact lies in the dangers that can arise from allowing one’s anger to grow unchecked and take over our minds, hearts, and souls, like a wild plant in the garden of our experience.

This meditation on the nature of wrath offers two ways of dealing with on an offence. When the speaker is angry with his friend, he told the friend of it and his “wrath did end.” However, when he was angry with his enemy, he kept the anger hidden, allowing it to grow. His wrath, which is watered “in fears” and sunned ‘with smiles, And with soft deceitful wiles,” grows into the poison tree of the title. The tree bears “an apple bright” that the speaker’s enemy desires; the greedy enemy takes the fruit, even though he knows it belongs to the speaker, and eats it. 
The next morning the speaker is glad to see his “foe outstretch’d beneath the tree.”

A helping hand:
1. wrath
belligerence aroused by a real or supposed wrong
I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
2. foe
a personal enemy
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
3. deceitful
marked by deliberate deceptiveness
And I watered it in fears,
Night and morning with my tears:
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.
4. wile
the use of tricks to deceive someone
And I watered it in fears,
Night and morning with my tears:
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.
5. bear
bring forth
And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright.
6. behold
see with attention
And my foe beheld it shine.
And he knew that it was mine.
7. steal
move stealthily
And into my garden stole
8. veil
to obscure or conceal
When the night had veiled the pole
9. pole
one of two points of intersection of the Earth's axis and the celestial sphere
When the night had veiled the pole
10. outstretched
fully extended especially in length
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

Saturday, 16 April 2016


The Poem

What has happened to Lulu, mother? 
What has happened to Lu? 
There's nothing in her bed but an old rag-doll 
And by its side a shoe. 

Why is her window wide, mother, 
The curtain flapping free, 
And only a circle on the dusty shelf 
Where her money-box used to be? 

Why do you turn your head, mother, 
And why do tear drops fall? 
And why do you crumple that note on the fire 
And say it is nothing at all? 

I woke to voices late last night, 
I heard an engine roar. 
Why do you tell me the things I heard 
Were a dream and nothing more? 

I heard somebody cry, mother, 
In anger or in pain, 
But now I ask you why, mother, 
You say it was a gust of rain. 

Why do you wander about as though 
You don't know what to do? 
What has happened to Lulu, mother? 
What has happened to Lu?

Meaning of Lines

Stanza 1
  • The persona is questioning her mother about the mysterious and sudden disappearance of Lulu. An old rag doll and a shoe was left behind 

    Stanza 2
    • The persona saw that the windows are wide opened and the curtains are "flapping free" in the wind. The persona also notice her money-box on the dusty shelf is gone.

    Stanza 3

    • The persona asks the mother why she is hiding her tears. The mother crumples up a note (most probably from Lulu) and throws it into the fire. Mother then tells her child that it is nothing at all. The persona does not believe her.
    Stanza 4
    • The persona tells that she was awakened by "voices late last night" and heard the sounds of an "engine roar", probably a car starting up and being driven away. The mother lies that the child was only dreaming.

    Stanza 5
    • The persona insists that she had heard someone cry "in anger or in pain". The mother says it was just "a gust of rain".

    Stanza 6
    • Puzzled about the mother's distraught behavior, the narrator wants to know why the mother is pacing about, uncertain what to do. The use of "Lu" is an affectionate shortened form of "Lulu

    What Has Happened to Lulu?
    Subject matter
    It is a poem told in a child’s voice about his older sister running away.
    A child is asking his mother what has happened to his sister, Lulu. There is nothing in her room, and her money-box has gone, with only an open window and an old rag-doll left behind. His mother is crying and burning a note. He thinks he heard voices and a car in the middle of the night, but his mother tells him he was only dreaming.

    Form and structure
    The poem is a ballad. written in four line stanzas where the second and fourth lines rhyme. This regular and simple form seems appropriate for the voice of the narrator, which is of a young child.
    It is a first person dramatic monologue that is addressed to the mother of the narrator. It is almost entirely written in questions, both reflecting the age of the speaker and his puzzlement at what has happened to his sister. The form suggests the child’s innocence, while allowing the reader to read between the lines and understand what has happened.

    Language and Imagery

    The image of the abandoned bed is the main one, described by the child narrator. The inclusion of childhood objects such as a rag-doll and a money-box emphasise the youth and innocence of the run-away Lulu. They are contrasted with the roar of the car engine heard in the night and the grown-up world that the narrator does not understand, emphasised by the constant questions. The curtain can be seen as a metaphor for Lulu’s new freedom, contrasted by the dust on the shelf that represents her previous life.

    The doubling of the sound in ‘Lulu’, together with the high level of repetition of both the name and its shortening in the poem, create a strong echo of the sound – which is also the rhymed sound in the first and last stanza. This is quite a childish sound, and helps to create the plaintive note in the child’s questioning.

    Attitudes, themes and ideas

    The poem takes an approach that makes the reader work to figure out what has happened. We have to piece together the clues given in the poem. This is in contrast to the apparent simplicity of the poem provided by the ballad format and the child’s voice. Doing this also puts the reader in the position of the child, who does not understand what is going on. We, like the narrator, have more questions than answers. The tone is one of puzzlement.

    What Has Happened to Lulu? 

    It deals with themes of grief and love. The mother is grieving over her lost child. The fact that the child has run away does not make the grief less significant. The confusion of the narrator about his or her parent’s reaction also tells us something about the nature of grief.The poem also considers how we deal with children, in dismissing what they have heard or seen. The child narrator has some valid knowledge of what has happened, but his mother tells him he dreamed it. The poem raises the question of how the child can react, when he has been told nothing is the matter, when clearly it is. Ironically the mother does not know what to do, as the final stanza makes clear.


    ·         Probably in England as the word "money-box" is a typical British word.
    • Lulu's room
    • The fireplace
    • In the past
    1. The end of childhood and the loss of innocence
    • Lulu is probably a young teenager. 
    • She ran away based on the note that her mother crumpled.
    • She took her savings "money-box" to start a new life with a man who drove her off in a "engine roar".
    • She left her childhood behind.
    2. Parent-child relationship
    • The mother and Lulu relationship could have been a tense and strained one.
    • Lulu is a rebellious teenager.
    • She dislikes her mother's restrictions on her freedom and emerging interest in the opposite sex.
    • She keeps secrets from her mother.
    • The mother and narrator relationship is less dramatic.
    • The narrator is obedient and respectful to the mother.
    • The narrator loves the mother very much and observe her pain and distress.
    3. Grief and love
    • The mother is grieving over the loss of her child, Lulu.
    • The mother clearly loves Lulu.
    • The narrator loves the sister as she called her by pet name "Lu".
    • The narrator is worried about the sudden disappearance of the elder sister