Vernon Scannell’s ‘The Apple-Raid’ is a nostalgic piece about childhood days. The central idea of this poem deals with apple gathering in the evening. As a child, the poet often visited the district with his friends to collect apples grown in the gardens of wealthy families. A simple autumn evening and the external ambiance remind the poet of those days, recalling which he becomes nostalgic. The fear of imminent death is also there in the matured poet’s mind.
Explore The Apple-Raid
‘The Apple-Raid’ by Vernon Scannell describes how the poet along with his friends John Peters and David Kidd stealthily entered into the gardens to collect apples during Autumn.
This piece begins with a reference to the external ambiance. It was the season of autumn. The speaker of this poem recalls how the breeze spiced with garden fires, the smell of burnt leaves, and the early dark excited him when he was a child. Then he gathered in the park with his friends John and David.
The kids went out of town to the district where wealthy families lived. They went there to collect apples in the secret dark. After gathering apples, they stepped outside silently as they entered and moved out of town munching their raided items. Now David is fifty and his childish spirit has dimmed. In the case of John, he is no more. Ironically, his grave can be found in a French orchard beneath apple boughs.
You can read the full poem here.
The title of the poem ‘The Apple-Raid’ gives a hint to readers of what the theme is going to be. Literally, “raid” is a military term that means a sudden attack on the enemy. It can be a reference to any kind of attack that is meant for surprising the opponents. But, in this poem, the word is associated with the term “apple”. It hints at the idea that the subject matter is linked with apple-gathering. After reading the poem, it becomes clear why the poet chose the title. It is meant for describing how the children went into the gardens silently and went out successfully with their rewards (apples).
The poem consists of seven stanzas. Each stanza of this piece contains four rhyming lines. Scannell uses the alternative rhyme scheme ABAB. It means in each stanza the first and third lines, and the second and fourth lines rhyme together. For example, in the first stanza, “cold” rhymes with “gold”, and “wires” rhymes with “fires”. Regarding the meter, this poem is not written in a regular one. It consists of both the iambic meter and trochaic meter. There are a few variations as well.
Scannell’s ‘The Apple-Raid’ showcases the following literary devices that make the poet’s thoughts more appealing to readers:
- Metaphor: This poem contains several metaphors. For example, the line “Stars were strung on the telegraph wires” contains an implicit comparison between stars and beads weaved in a string.
- Alliteration: It occurs in the following phrases: “Street lamps spilled,” “lucky and wealthy,” “garages, gardens,” etc.
- Imagery: This poem contains the use of visual, olfactory, auditory, and organic imagery. Readers can find the use of visual imagery in the first stanza. The “smell of burnt leaves” contains olfactory imagery.
- Irony: It occurs in the poem’s last line: “In an orchard in France beneath apple trees.”
- Onomatopoeia: This device can be found in the use of the words “spiced”, “crunched”, and “munched”.
Darkness came early, though not yet cold;
The breeze was spiced with garden fires.
The first stanza of ‘The Apple-Raid’ paints a beautiful picture of an autumn landscape. This section has a sad tone. The term “darkness” adds to the monotony of the following lines. In autumn, the sun sets earlier than summer, thus darkness comes down early. The weather is neither too cold nor too hot. It is a time when leaves start yellowing and fall gradually, preparing the landscape for the winter.
The poetic persona of Scannell is describing such a scene in the first stanza of the poem. He presents the imagery of stars that seemed to him as if someone had strung them on the telegraph wires. The speaker describes how beautiful the starlit sky of autumn seems. The yellow light of street lamps made the nearby pool’s water look like “liquid gold”. The term “gold” has an indirect reference to the golden childhood days. Furthermore, the breeze became spiced with the scent of burning leaves. Some people might have gathered to burn the fallen leaves nearby.
That smell of burnt leaves, the early dark.
Myself, John Peters and David Kidd.
The second stanza begins with olfactory imagery. This imagery is connected with the smell of burnt leaves. Along with that, Scannell talks about the early darkness. These two factors contribute to the feeling of nostalgia in the speaker’s mind. According to him, the smell and the evening remind him of his childhood days. At that time, he waited throughout the day for the evening.
He and two of his friends John Peters and David Kidd met in the park in the evening. The smell of burnt leaves coming from their locality incited them to come out of their rooms. It was a time when they had time to spend together and have fun. But, now as an old man, Scannell’s poetic persona is burdened with some other works that hinder him from meeting up with his friends.
The smell still lingers in the season of autumn but it has somehow lost its significance in his life. However, the external ambiance can do only one thing. It reminds him of his glorious childhood.
We moved out of town to the district where
Clustered in the trees’ green domes
What did they do after meeting in the park? From this stanza, Scannell quickly jumps into the subject matter of the poem, the apple raid. After catching up, the kids moved out of the boundaries of their town and entered the district. The lucky and wealthy families lived there at that time. In modern days, such families do not prefer such outskirts. They are content with their inorganic city or town life.
When the poet was a child, the well-off families lived in the district. They had homes with garages and wide gardens.
The “garden” is the place where the raid was going to take place. They grew apples in their gardens that clustered and formed “green domes”. Readers have to take note of the verb “spare”. It refers to the fact that the wealthier families were not that selfish at all. They had time to spend in close proximity with nature and had time to spare and things to share.
We chose the place we meant to plunder
Our feet as we moved through the grass and dew.
It is impossible to ignore the use of the word “we” at the beginning of the third, fourth, and fifth stanzas. Though Scannell writes this poem from the first-person point of view, he does not use the pronoun “I” anywhere in the poem. While describing the childhood memory associated with the apple raid, he does not refer to any idea of singularity. They were together at that time, even in Scannell’s memory, they are inseparable.
This particular stanza deals with the main activity of the boys during the raid. Firstly, they chose their target. It had to be a safe spot and far from the house of the owner. To start their plunder, they climbed up the wall. Tip-toeing through secrecy, they reached their target.
When they moved through the garden, fallen apples crunched under their feet. The dewy and grassy garden welcomed the kids to accomplish the mischievous task.
The use of onomatopoeia is present in the lines “… Apples crunched under/ Our feet as we moved through the grass and dew.” By using the word “crunch”, Scannell describes the sound of fallen apples crushed under the pressure of their feet.
We found the lower boughs of a tree
Boys were heavy with their tasty loot.
This stanza similarly begins with the word “we” which displays a sense of togetherness. In this stanza, Scannell describes how the kids stole apples. After entering the garden, they chose the lower boughs of the trees that were easy to reach with their little hands. Thereafter, they collected apples in pockets and their jerseys. They gathered apples till they felt heavy with their loot.
The use of enjambment connects the lines of this stanza to the lines of the previous stanzas. The imagery of filling pockets and jerseys with fruits has a universality. In the past, kids used to plunder gardens and collect fruits similarly. Those who stole fruits in their childhood can relate to this line further. The scene can make them nostalgic as well.
Safe on the other side of the wall
That little adventure, the apples’ fresh scent?
After they were done with their childish plundering and looting, they safely climbed the wall. Thus they reached the safe side. The description of the whole scene points to the thinking process of a child. As a child, some of the readers might have compared themselves with pirates or some heroic figures.
In the poet’s case and his friends, they thought themselves to be experts in raiding gardens and stealing fruits. It provides them a wild kind of enthusiasm and happiness. It is not that they had a hidden motive. In simple words, the apple raid was a means of enjoyment for them.
With a victor’s smile, the poetic persona returned along with his friends. On the way back to their town, they munched on their loot. Suddenly, the speaker stops recapitulating and introspects whether his friend David can remember those days. That “little adventure” associated with the fresh scent of apples is still vibrant in his memory. The only question is whether his friends still remember those adventurous days or not.
Strange to think that he’s fifty years old,
In an orchard in France beneath apple trees.
The last stanza of the poem is ironic. Most of the poems dealing with the same theme have a similar ironic ending. In this stanza, the speaker tells readers that David is now fifty years old. His age reflects the way nowadays he lives his life.
Like aged persons, he might have been bogged down by time. But as a little boy, he was sporting and playful. The speaker can still remember how his friend had scabs on his knees. It reflects how naughty his friend was as a child. He did not think about what would happen if he falls while playing. All that mattered to them, was enjoyment.
In the case of his friend John Peters, he is no more. It is strange to think that the boy who once was a partner of the apple-raid, is now lying in the grave in some orchard in France, beneath the shade of apple trees. This line hints at the theme of how one’s life ends abruptly. The transience of human life and the loss of the childish spirit are portrayed in this stanza.
The poem ‘The Apple-Raid’ was published in Vernon Scannell’s poetry collection “The Apple-Raid and Other Poems”. It was published in 1974. At that time, the poet was 52 years old. So, the poem was probably written during that time as the content of the poem implies. Vernon Scannell had abrupt childhood days. He had to leave his school and start working at the age of 14. Before that, he mostly spent his youth in Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire. Their family moved frequently due to their financial position. In this poem, Scannell shares one of his childhood memories related to the apple raid.
Read more Vernon Scannell poems.
The poem ‘The Apple-Raid’ was published in 1974 in Vernon Scannell’s collection of poetry “The Apple-Raid and Other Poems”.
The speaker of this piece is the poet Vernon Scannell himself. He talks about his childhood in this poem.
The tone of ‘The Apple-Raid’ is emotive, ironic, nostalgic, and monotonous. When the poet recalls his childhood memory, the tone becomes happy and enthusiastic.
Scannell talks about how he, with his childhood friends Peter and David, went out of the town to the district to gather apples. He compares it to the “apple-raid”.
Here is a list of a few poems that similarly tap on the themes present in Vernon Scannell’s poem ‘The Apple-Raid’.
- ‘After Apple-Picking’ by Robert Frost – It’s one of the best-known poems of Robert Frost. This poem explores the themes of life and death by referring to an apple picker’s thoughts. Explore more Robert Frost poems.
- ‘An Apple Gathering’ by Christina Rossetti – It’s one of the popular Christina Rossetti poems. This poem is filled with images of regret and hopelessness that center around the apple gathering. Read more Christina Rossetti poems.
- ‘Like Dolmens Round My Childhood, the Old People’ by John Montague – This poem depicts the lives and death of older people the speaker knew well. Explore more John Montague poems.
- ‘Reminiscence’ by Elizabeth Jennings – This poem is about the experiences of love in childhood and adulthood. Read more Elizabeth Jennings poems.