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Conflict (Edexcel Poetry Anthology)

1. William Blake, A Poison Tree (1794)

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In this module, we read through William Blake’s ‘A Poison Tree’, focusing in particular on the concepts of innocence and experience, the symbolism of the apple, and the lesson we should derive from the poem. Should we, like the speaker of the poem, be “glad” when we see our foes “outstretched beneath the tree”?


In this course, Professor John McRae (University of Nottingham) explores the fifteen poems that make up the ‘Conflict’ cluster for GCSE English Literature (Edexcel). Each poem is read in full, with a short commentary highlighting aspects of language, style, themes, motif, and so on. In the case of Blake’s ‘A Poison Tree’, for example, we think about the concepts of innocence and experience and the symbolism of the apple. When we come to Byron’s ‘The Destruction of Sennacherib’, we focus on the figure of Sennacherib and the rhythm of the poem. And so on for the rest of the collection.

The poems discussed in this course are:
1. William Blake, A Poison Tree (1794)
2. Lord Byron, The Destruction of Sennacherib (1815)
3. William Wordsworth, The Prelude: Stealing the Boat (1798-1850)
4. Thomas Hardy, The Man He Killed (1902)
5. Christina Rossetti, Cousin Kate (1862)
6. John Agard, Half-Caste (2005)
7. Wilfred Owen, Exposure (1917)
8. Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Charge of the Light Brigade (1854)
9. Gillian Clarke, Catrin (1978)
10. Carole Satyamurti, War Photographer (1987)
11. Ciaran Carson, Belfast Confetti (1989)
12. Mary Casey, The Class Game (1979)
13. Jane Weir, Poppies (2009)
14. Benjamin Zephaniah, No Problem (1996)
15. Denise Levertov, What Were They Like? (1967)


John McRae is Special Professor of Language in Literature Studies and Teaching Associate in the School of English at Nottingham University, and holds Visiting Professorships in China, Malaysia, Spain and the USA. He is co-author of The Routledge History of Literature in English with Ron Carter, and also wrote The Language of Poetry, Literature with a Small 'l' and the first critical edition of Teleny by Oscar Wilde and others.

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APA style

McRae, J. (2019, March 06). Conflict (Edexcel Poetry Anthology) - William Blake, A Poison Tree (1794) [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

McRae, J. "Conflict (Edexcel Poetry Anthology) – William Blake, A Poison Tree (1794)." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 06 Mar 2019,

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