After Apple-Picking by Robert Frost

The poem, After Apple-Picking, begins with the expression of the thoughts of the speaker, an apple-picker, after a day of apple-picking. Having picked apples throughout the day, he is tired now. His day’s work is over, but the task of apple-picking is not yet complete. The speaker tells that his long ladder still stands ‘sticking through a tree’, rising high toward heaven. He seems to have left it there on purpose to do some more apple-picking later.

 

After Apple-Picking Analysis

My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree

(…)

Essence of winter sleep is on the night,

Beside the ladder, there is a barrel that has not yet been filled with apples, and can accommodate some more. A few apples may still have been left on the branches of the tree unpicked or yet to be picked. That means, the task of apple-picking is incomplete. But, as the speaker tells, he is fed up with or tired of apple-picking, and does not feel like doing this work anymore. You can read the poem in full here.

Essence of winter sleep is on the night,

(…)

And held against the world of hoary grass.

The speaker feels tired. The scent of apples, which is the ‘essence of winter-sleep’, causes drowsiness to him, and he begins to drowse off. While falling asleep he recollects the sense of strangeness that was experienced by him at the right he saw in the morning by looking through a sheet of ice which he had picked up from his drinking vessel (trough). He looked at ‘the world  of hoary grass’ or (grass covered with snow) through this sheet. It seems as if the speaker were in  a confused state of mind because of the onslaught of sleep on him that sent him into a trance in which  everything seemed to have been blurred or made indistinct to view.

It melted, and I let it fall and break.

(…)

What form my dreaming was about to take.

The sheet of ice melted, and the speaker allowed it to fall down from his hands, and break into pieces. However, before it fell down, he was just on the verge of falling asleep. In this sleepy state he was able to tell what form his dreaming was to take place, or what kind of dreams he was about to see in his sleep.

Magnified apples appear and disappear,

(…)

I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.

These lines describe the dream of the  speaker. The dream comprises ‘an  exaggerated recreation of the sensations of apple-picking experienced during the day’, Apples of an enlarged size appear and disappear everywhere – at the end of the stem and at the end of the flowering part of the tree. The speaker sees even the most  tiny apples and their colours clearly in the dream. His feet do not feel only pain, but also the pressure of the ladder-round. As he picks the apples, the boughs bend down, and with their movement the ladder also seems to sway. The speaker has given here a picturesque description of the dreamland in which he finds himself in his tranced state.

And I keep hearing from the cellar bin

(…)

Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.

From the depiction of the right around him, the poet-speaker turns to a description of the sound. From the ‘cellar bin’, he keeps hearing the ‘rumbling sound’ of carts carrying ‘load on load of apples’. There is an abundance of apples, and there are tens of thousands of them for him to touch, admire and to pick or lift carefully so as not to let any of them fall down on the ground. Since the speaker has already done enough of apple-picking he feels overtired and fed up with the bumper harvest he has himself desired so much in the past. He does not want anything to do with the apples.

For all

(…)

As of no worth.

The apples are not to be allowed to fall from the hands of the speaker, because all such apples as happen to fall down on the ground, are treated as discarded or rejected, even if they may not have been ‘bruised or spiked with stubble.; They are set aside in heaps to be used for making cider, and are not regarded as fit or of any worth as eatable fruits.

One can see what will trouble

(…)

Or just some human sleep.

In these concluding lines of the poem, the poet-speaker guesses as to what will trouble his sleep, whatever kind of sleep it may be. His sleep may be troubled by the thought or awareness of the reality which has been ignored in the dream. If the wood chunk (a rodent) has not gone to his long sleep for the winter, it would be able to explain the nature of the poet’s sleep, and to tell whether it is a long sleep, which may resemble its own torpor or hibernation, or just an ordinary sleep commonly loved by all human beings. The sleep may be a simple sleep or the sleep of death.

 

Critical Analysis

Similar to Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, The Road Not Taken and Birches, After Apple-Picking may be regarded as one of the most widely read, admired, popular and anthologised poems by Robert Frost. Included in the volume North of Boston, it is chiefly neither a narrative poem in blank verse nor a dramatic dialogue as most of the poems in this volume are. It is a nature-lyric depicting the experience of an apple-picker who is tired after the day’s work, and falls asleep in the lap of dreams about his task. It may be regarded as a charming idyll ‘dusted over with something uncanny’, and containing a fine bland of illusion and reality.

The poem is, in fact, absorbed with states between not only of winter sleep, but of all similar areas where real and unreal appear and disappear. The poem amply reveals the poet’s power of describing objects and scenes realistically and sensuously. For example there is a description of the long two-pointed ladder sticking through a tree of the sheet of ice melting in the speaker’s hands, of the rights and sounds experienced by the speaker in his dream, such as ‘the rambling sound of load on load of apples coming in’, and  so on. All these descriptions are vivid and concrete, and based on the poet’s own observation.

Of special interest is the description of ‘magnified apples’ and ‘every fleck of russet showing clear’ Physical states like fatigue and drowsiness, and mental states and experience like the sense of strangeness of the right seen through a sheet of ice, are nicely depicted by the poet. The poet shows an equal skill in describing reality and dream. The tranced state of the speaker has been described finely too. In fact, After Apple-Picking is so vivid a memory of experience that the readers absorb it physically. They can even smell the heady scent of apples; senses the strangeness of the world’ as it seems to the overtired worker; feels how definitely the instep arch:

….not only keeps the ache,

It keeps the pressure of ladder-round.

It is also so simple and exact, so casual, yet so original. A poem of reality, ‘After Apple-Picking has the enchantment of a lingering dream.’

Moreover, themes like Life, Death and the Fall of man are treated by Frost in After Apple-Picking through a number of systems. Additionally, similar to so many poems of Frost, this poem also possesses a symbolic quality. The description of external objects and activity conceals a wealth of deeper meaning which is conveyed through the method of symbolism.

For example; the words like ladder, heaven, winter sleep, magnified apples, world of hoary grass and some others have a symbolic significance, and even convey a deeper meaning. Thus, the poem, After Apple-Picking by Robert Frost has got all the characteristics that make it the one of the best and frequently-read poem.

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  • Avatar Jay says:

    Awesome explanation…. It’s really an outstanding venture into the clarification of the poem. Before I came across this content I had lots of doubts relating to the thought content of it, but after reading it I have absorbed the notion of the poet reflected in the poem with flying colours. Really indebted to your efforts.

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      you’re more than welcome. It’s always lovely to get positive feedback. So thank you for your kind words.

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