Apples of Hesperides by Amy Lowell

‘Apples of Hesperides’ by Amy Lowell contains three stanzas, the first of which has seven lines, the second, nine, and the third with eight. The stanzas each have their own independent rhyme schemes, but the second and third are closely related. One constant in each stanza is the repetition of the end rhyme, “ees,” such as “Hesperides” and “ breeze” in the first stanza. Additionally, the poet repeats the line, “Apples of Hesperides” in the second and last line of each stanza. 

 

The Story of the Hesperides 

In Greek mythology, as told by Hesiod, one of the earliest Greek poets, the Hesperides, a type of nymph, are responsible for guarding the tree that bears golden apples. These apples were a gift that Gaea, or Earth, gave to the goddess Hera at her marriage to Zeus. 

Traditionally, there are three Hesperides, Aegle, Erytheia, and Hespere. In different tellings of various stories these women were said to have been born from Atlas and Hesperis, or Erebus and Night. The women guard the apples alongside a dragon, Ladon. 

The golden apples of the Hesperides are featured in a number of stories, especially in accounts of Heracles’, ( Hercules) 11th labor. 

 

Summary of Apples of Hesperides

“Apples of Hesperides” by Amy Lowell describes the transcendent beauty and untouchable nature of Hera’s golden apples. 

At the beginning of this poem the speaker is describing the apples of the Hesperides hanging in the forest at night. They are glowing a brilliant golden that is able, like the moon, to pierce through the darkness. They are simple objects, but endlessly valuable. 

In the second stanza the poet describes a mortal’s misguided quest to retrieve an apple for his, or herself, This person gives little thought to their personal wellbeing and charges headfirst towards the prize. They are unsuccessful. 

In the final section the speaker states once more that there is no way a mortal could ever touch this fruit, and that they are more than just apples. They are “transcendent” and divine in their own right and will never be removed from their tree. 

 

Analysis of Apples of Hesperides

Stanza One 

Glinting golden through the trees,  

Apples of Hesperides! 

Through the moon-pierced warp of night 

Shoot pale shafts of yellow light, 

 Swaying to the kissing breeze 

 Swings the treasure, golden-gleaming, 

 Apples of Hesperides! 

In the first stanza of this piece the speaker describes to the reader a spectacular sight. She is observing the “Apples of Hesperides” hanging in the forest at night. These are not normal apples, they are golden, and were a gift to the goddess Hera on her wedding day. The speaker can see the apples “through the trees” of the forest and states that they give off a light all their own. They are “Glinting,” even in the darkness of night. It is as if some force within them is powering them. Their providence is clearly on display. 

The only other light in this scene is that of the moon which is piercing the darkness that is wrapped around the forest. It is as if the speaker is confined within “night” and the dark is keeping her there. 

The apples are shooting off “pale shots of yellow light” and they are “Swaying” in the light, or “kissing,” breeze. These delicate objects are “treasure[s]” and they are swinging so simply in the night, it is a marvel to behold. The last line repeats the title, and second line, of the poem. This line, “Apples of Hesperides” will be a refrain in this piece that serves to remind the speaker how important this fruit is. 

 

Stanza Two 

Far and lofty yet they glimmer,  

Apples of Hesperides! 

Blinded by their radiant shimmer, 

Pushing forward just for these; 

Dew-besprinkled, bramble-marred, 

Poor duped mortal, travel-scarred, 

Always thinking soon to seize 

And possess the golden-glistening 

Apples of Hesperides! 

The apples are not within the speaker’s reach. They are said to be “lofty” but still, their light reaches the ground where she is standing. Not only are they physically out of reach, they are not meant for a mortal. This becomes clear in the next lines of the stanza. 

The speaker introduces a vague character to the poem. This person is only described as being a “mortal,” he or she is a normal human being who, after stumbling on the apples at night is taken in by their “radiant shimmer.” This person, knowing full and well, the importance of the apples, still persists in attempting to claim some. He/she pushes “forward” through the woods. They are undeterred by the dew on the leaves or the sharp brambles that scratch their skin. 

This person is described as being “duped” by the idea that he/she could possible reach these apples. They thought too “soon” and acted without really thinking. Their thoughts were completely consumed with the prospect of “possess[ing] the golden-glittering / Apples of Hesperides.” 

 

Related poetry:   The Garden by Moonlight by Amy Lowell

Stanza Three

Orbed, and glittering, and pendent, 

Apples of Hesperides! 

Not one missing, still transcendent, 

Clustering like a swarm of bees. 

Yielding to no man’s desire, 

Glowing with a saffron fire, 

Splendid, unassailed, the golden 

Apples of Hesperides! 

In the final eight line stanza of the poem, the speaker once more reiterates the importance of, and beauty of, these apples. They are more than just fruit they are a force all their own, “Orbed” and “glittering” like piece of jewelry. They resemble “pendent[s],” and are there in their entirety. Not one is missing. To read more about the guarding of the apples, see “The Story of the Hesperides” above. 

It is very likely that this mortal fell to the guardians of the apples, having acted brashly and selfishly. The apples remain where they always have been and are still just as divine and “transcendent.” They are beyond the realm of humans. The groupings of them in the tree make them appear to be swarming like bees. They have a power and are unwilling to yield to any “man’s desire.” 

They are internally lit by a “saffron fire” that does not go out for any reason. The use of saffron in this line works to the apple’s advantage. They are being thought of as expensive beyond reason as saffron has long been considered one of the world’s most valuable spices. 

The poem concludes with a repetition of the refrain and an emphasis on the untouched nature of the fruit. 

 

About Amy Lowell 

Amy Lowell was born in February of 1874 in Brookline, Massachusetts. Her family was a prominent part of Massachusetts society and she was educated privately by her mother. She spent the early part of her life traveling aboard and living the life of a Boston socialite. 

It was not until 1902 that Lowell decided to dedicate herself fully to poetry. It took eight years for her to have her first piece published and another two until her first book of poems, A Dome of Many-Colored Glass was released. While traveling, and after meeting Ezra Pound, she joined the Imagist movement. At that same time her second book, Sword Blades and Poppy Seeds, was published anonymously. Her most well known works were published in Can Grande’s Castle and Legends appearing in 1918 and 1921. 

Along with a number of other works, some of a critical nature, she would also go on to published a two-volume biography of John Keats in 1925. She died in May of 1925. 

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