After Apple Picking by Robert Frost
Table of Contents
After Apple Picking, a poem of barely 42 lines was written and published in 1941 in North of Boston. It is one of the remarkable nature-poems of Frost. It is also rich in symbolism. It is written in the first person.
After Apple Picking Theme
As Robert Doyle has said, the stuff of the poem is ‘common.’ But out of the ‘common’, the poet has created a tone that will govern the reader’s response to the material. What is the material then?
After Apple Picking centers round theme of life and death. Here the woodchuck and the evening time clearly symbolize death. The role of the apple picker indicates the uncertainty of life. Another significant theme of the poem is the all pervasive impact of Nature on human being. Like a loving mother nature plays a role of influencer to man.
After Apple Picking Summary
The poem begins with the description of the apple-picker who has stuck his two-pointed ladder through a tree upward. There is a barrel that they didn’t fill, and there are two or three apples more that he didn’t pick upon some bough, but he is now completely tired with apple-picking. He feels sleepy, as the winter is well on and the scent of apples is well out. All the objects of Nature appear strange to him now. In the job of apple-picking, he fell into a trance and started dreaming. He is not sure of the kind of dream he saw, but he knows at least one thing that big apples appeared and disappeared. He feels that his ladder was, as though, swayed to and fro along with the wind. After describing the delight of the eyes, he describes the delight of the ears. He tells that from the cellar bin he keeps hearing the rumbling of load on load of apples coming in. He feels also completely tired because of apple picking. He wishes that the harvest of apples should be bumper, and when his wish is fulfilled, he fills that he is exhausted due to overwork. There are ten thousand apples before him and it is difficult for him to allow anyone of them fall down lest they should be spoilt and worthless. The apple-picker guesses the thing that will trouble him in his sleep, be it whatever kind of sleep. Had he stayed in the apple-orchard, the woodchuck would have told him if his sleep was like the bird’s, or it was simply human
After Apple Picking Analysis
As Cleanth Brooks has pointed out, After Apple Picking is a great “realistic account.” The poem is an admirable piece of description; the farmer who speaks the poem is simply “overtired” and turns away with a bit of whimsical humour and an honest weariness to thoughts of sleep.
But even a really fine peace of realistic” description-a piece of description that engages our thoughts and stirs our imagination-tends to generate symbolic overtones. Such a description is more than an account of physical object; it suggests, if only vaguely, further experiences. All of this is true of After Apple Picking. Furthermore, a second glance at the poem reveals elements that can’t be readily accommodated a merely realistic reading of the poem. The first of these elements obtrudes itself in line 7. Up to that point everything may be taken at the literal description level.
With line 7, we are forced to consider nonrealistic readings. For one thing, the highly suggestive word ‘essence’ comes strangely into the poem. If is not the kind of everyday, ordinary world characteristic of the vocabulary of the previous part of the poem. This unusual word serves as a signal, a sign post in the poem in the context, the word ‘essence’ most readily bring in the notion of some sort of perfume, some sort of distillate; it also involves the philosophical meaning of something permanent and eternal, of some necessary element of substance. The word ‘scent’ (as contrasted with synonyms like odour or smell) supports the first idea in ‘essence, but the other meaning are also there, with their philosophical weight; and the assonance makes a further point, suggestive and subtle. The scent of apples is a valuable perfume, as it were, but it is also to be associated in some significant way with the ‘winter sleep.’
We notice that a colon comes after the phrase ‘scent of apples’ to introduce the statement, “I am drowsing off.” The scent of apples, as it were, puts to sleep the harvester. The next line implies that this is scarcely a normal, literal sleep. The sleep, in fact, had begun that morning with a strangeness’ got from looking through the pane ice. So somehow the scent of apples and strangeness of the ice-view combine to produce the “winter-sleep.”
Then comes the dream. It is true that when we are overtired, we tend to repeat in dream the activity that has caused the fatigue, as when after driving all day one sees the road still coming at him. There is thus a realistic psychological basis for the nature of this dream; but we must also remember that the dream had been provisoned that morning, and dreams that are literal in a literal world don’t begin that way. But the details of the poem are not like those of Frost’s Desert Palaces to be precisely literal; “they are constantly implying a kind of fantasy”. (C. Brooks)
To take a fresh start with the poem, we find a set of contrasts gradually developing the world of summer and the world of winter; the world of labour and the world of rest; the world of effort and the world of reward; the world of wakefulness and world of sleep: the world of ordinary vision and the world of distorted by the ice-view; the world of fact and the world of dream. And we understand that these various pairs are various aspects of a single contrast. But a contrast of what? A contrast of two views of experience, of the world in general of life, if you will.
In other words, we take a broad, simple, generalized view of apple-picking and harvest-the end of some human effort in the real world, which is followed by reward, rest, dream. To go one step further, we may say that the contrast is between the actual and the ideal. The actual is to be had in details like “My long two pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree/Toward heaven still.” But the ideal is conceived beyond the factual statement, and take the meaning of “Toward heaven still” in metaphysical terms. Then “heaven’ becomes the place of man’s rewards, the home of his aspirations, the deposit of perfection and ideal values
At this point, it may be objected that to associate the dream in the poem with the ideal is a peculiar thing, for the dream seems to be a bad dream, a nightmare of the day’s labour. But is the dream a nightmare? The poet, it is true, says that he has had so much of apple picking and is now ‘overtired’. He knows that his sleep will be troubled and knows that the instep arch will keep the ache of the ladder-round. Over against these explicit statements, however, we must put the quality of the a whole.
We start with the description of the apples :
“Magnified apples appear and disappear
Stem end and blossom end,
And every flock of russet showing clear.”
The apples of reality had been ‘good’, now in dream the apples become magnified. They become good for contemplation–they become bigger than life, every aspect, stem end and blossom end, every tiny fleck of russet. In the dream there is freedom from the load of work. Let us consider the words ‘russet’ and ‘clear’. They are smuggling some kind of plus-value into the dream. ‘Russet’ carries an agreeable, decorative, poetical flavour, and clear’ has all sorts of vague connotations of the desirable, opposed to the turgid, the murky, the dirty, the impure, the confused, and the like. Suppose we paraphrase the line :
“And every spot of brown now visible.”
We have lost the plus-quality, the sense of the desirable in the apples.
To proceed with the passage, if the ache of the instep arch remains, there is also the line
“I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.”
The experience described may be taken in itself as an agreeable one, and in addition the line is euphonic and delicately expressive. Notice how the swoop of the anapests ‘as the boughs’ is caught by the solid monosyllabic foot ‘bend’, and brought, as it were, safely to rest. Also notice that though the first three feet are regularly iambic.
I feel/the lad/der sway/,
the phrase “the ladder’ gives a kind of sweeping, than falling, movement across the iambic structure, a movement which, again, is brought to rest by an accented monosyllable, ‘sway.’ So the rhythmic structure of the line falls into two parts, each with a sweep brought to rest. .
Similarly, the sound of apples rumbling into the cellar bin (the signal of the competition of labour and the word ‘cherish’ smuggle a plus-value into the dream. If the picking was labour, it was a loving labour, not a labour simply for practical reward. We may, thus arrive at the interference that though the dream does carry over the fatigue of the real world, it also carries over its satisfactions in a magnified form, satisfactions now freed from the urgencies of practical effort-the apples may now be contemplated in their fullness of being. In no way, the idea is to be understood as something distinct from the actual, from man’s literal, experience in the literal world. Rather it is to be understood as a projection, a development, of the literal experience. The dream, therefore, is not a nightmare, but a blessing.
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In the last lap of the poem occurs the image of the wood chuck in the context of sleep. Here, again, the poet is working with a contrast, the contrast between the woodchuck’s sleep and “Just some human sleep.” The woodchuck’s sleep will be dreamless and untroubled. The woodchuck is simply a part of the nature from which man is set apart. The woodchuck toils not, neither does he dream. Man does work and dream. He is troubled’, but the trouble is exactly what makes him human and superior to the woodchuck. The word “Just’, in the phrase “Just some human sleep”, gives a faintly ironical understatement to the notion of man’s superiority, but no grandiose claim to it.
Some readers may be inclined to say that the poem is not merely about apple picking, but is about life and death as imaged in a set of contrasts: summer winter; labour-rest; ordinary view and the view seen through the pane of ice. They go on to say that the dream is an image for life after death, and indicates the kind of immortality the poet expects or wants. They support this notion by a reference to the word ‘heaven’ in the second line, and perhaps so the contrast between man and woodchuck (the woodchuck does not dream, that is, it is not immortal). But, according to C. Brooks, his view “takes the ideas of heaven and immortality at their face value, neglecting the broad basic theme.” He observes: “It is conceivable, to be sure that the poet does accept the idea of immortality, but there is no evidence in the poem that he does nor, as a matter of fact, elsewhere in Frost’s work).in the opinion of this critic, the poem primarily concerns itself to “a life involving both the real and the ideal.”
The idea would apply to any ideal that man sets up for himself. An ideal to be valid must stem from the real world, and must not violate or deny it. The poem starts with ordinary experience, and then reflects the fuller and richer life of dreams. Apples ‘appear’ first, then disappear’ but only to reappear in a magnified form.
The poem produces an enchanting effect on our mind. To use the words of Louis Untermeyer, “After Apple Picking is so vivid a memory of experience that the reader absorbs it physically. He smells 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 a ladder-round.”
It is all so simple and exact, so casual yet so original. A poem or reality, After Apple-Picking has the enchantment of a lingering dream.” In addition to its dreamy quality, the poem is also rich in symbolism as has been indicated by Cleanth Brooks, “The concrete experience of apple picking is communicated firmly and realistically, but the poem invites a metaphorical extension. The task of apple picking, it is suggested, is any task, it is life.”
Of the poem’s artistic merits, this is to be noted that an original rhythm-form grows out the dramatic setting and the initial commitment in tone. It records the pre-sleep and sleepy reminiscence of the apple picker. There is a note of subtlety in it because of the different threads of experience and meaning operating in it. It abounds in images and metaphors: “I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight”, “magnified apples”, “load on load”, “ten thousand fruit”, etc. The poem makes a very good use of the couplet. As Frost has used it here, “it is with the verse of social talk of Swift and Goldsmith”. Rich as the poem is in lyricism, it stirs the soul of the reader by the strength of its unique rhythm, beautiful imagery, meaningful phrase, dreamy incantation, and, above all, it’s marvellous mixture of the real and the ideal.
After Apple Picking Line by Line Analysis
My long two pointed… heaven still- The apple-picker has fixed his ladder, facing heavenward, i.e. standing upright against the tree in order to pick the apples.
still-at rest, peaceful.
And there’s…some bough-These lines suggest that the dreamy talk is to follow. The apple-picker feels that he could not complete a part of his work, such as the filling up of a barrel and the picking up of two or three apples upon some branch of the tree.
But I am done…now-The picker is totally tired due to heavy harvest of apples.
The essence of winter…off- The entire atmosphere is laden, as it were, with sleepiness and drowsiness.
drowsing off- feeling sleepiness.
strangeness-The entire atmosphere looks strange or peculiar to the picker’s eye, so tired is he
skimmed-removed floating matter on the surface of liquid,
the drinking through-the long, open vessel meant for drinking,
hoary grass-gray grass.
magnified apples-The apples seen against the sky with day-light accuracy appear to be enlarged in size.
Stem end…clear- Everywhere apples were to be seen in large numbers, they were at the end of the stem and at the end of flower. Every speck of russet (a variety of apple) shows itself clear to him. The pressure-burden, I feel the ladder bend-As the branches lower down, the ladder also goes down and begins swinging.
overtired- totally exhausted,
harvest-crop of the apples.
Cherish in hand…let fall-The apple-picker is very careful not to allow any apple to fall on earth and get spoiled,
stubble-short growth of beard
One can see… it is-Whatever sleep comes to him, it will trouble him because he is already tired with apple-picking.
The woodchuck long sleep-This is the closing metaphor of the poem and it adds the strangeness of winter sleep’