Robert Frost’s After Apple-Picking
Most people upon first reading Robert Frost’s After Apple-Picking see it as merely a vivid poem about a rural farmer picking apples at the end of harvest but a more in depth look reveals a depiction of the end of life.
The narrator in Frost’s poem is like someone reaching the last moments of his life, he senses the strange feeling of death coming over him and he thinks of the things left undone. The apple barrels did not fill. The poem opens with the line “My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree toward heaven still” the narrator is reaching the end of his life like the ladder reaching toward heaven. The ladder is like his own soul reaching toward the after life. As winter approaches, the narrator realizes his time has come as shown by his state that he “is done with apple-picking now”. The season of winter is not only the end of the year but also the time when animals hibernate or sleep, the narrator remarks that “winter sleep is on the night” and that he is “drowsing off”, further implying he is actually reaching his own death.
The narrator then begins to feel his body and soul separating, Frost implies this by using the image of water in a trough (the soul) and a pane of ice across the waters surface (the body). The narrator lets the pane of ice fall from his hands and break. Many people before they die fall to the ground this is also true for the narrator after the ice (his body) falls the narrator says “but I was well upon my way to sleep before it fell.” The farmer knew his end was near and he began to think of the people he would leave behind stating that “magnified apples appear and disappear” and he begins to see his own life flash before his eyes from end to beginning or as the narrator puts it “stem end to blossom end.” The narrator goes on to say that he felt “the ladder sway as the boughs bent”, the farmer’s soul is getting ready to go into the after life, to make it’s journey up the ladder. The farmer feels he is finally ready to leave this world and says he has had “too much of apple-picking.”
As the farmer dies he begins to think of the people he’ll never meet and the lives he’ll never get to be apart of. Frost writes of these people in the form of apples. The narrator thinks of the fruit he’ll never “cherish in hand, lift down and not let fall.” The narrator knowing he’s dying realizes he will even miss those apples (people) most everyone else would deem undesirable, “no matter if not bruised or spiked with stumble.” In the end the farmer falls into a state of denial, no longer assuming the sleep coming over him is death itself he begins to wish for someone to reassure him of what kind of sleep it is and says that he feels “the woodchuck could say whether it’s like his long sleep…or just some human sleep.”
Walton Beacham, writer of the book “Critical Survey of Poetry: American Poets”, backs the theory that the sleep taking the over the narrator is death itself. Beacham explains that Frost uses his way of writing with the sleight of hand to trick the reader into thinking the anxieties of the farmer is only about the apples he must pick so late into the season. Beacham then points out that Frost has not merely placed words with symbolic elements into this piece for one to just except it as a poem about a farmer who has fears the time constraint he has to harvest all his apples. Rather the reader must look deeper into the symbols meanings like, the ladder reaching toward heaven and the apples themselves. Beacham even brings to light a possible biblical connection with Jacobs ladder and the Garden of Eden.
There is, however, a more prominent opinion that to read “After Apple-Picking” and to assume it is about death is to merely take the poem at face value. One of many who advocate this belief is author and literary critic, John J. Conder. Conder agrees with Beacham that the apples bring to the mind of the reader the apples of the Garden of Eden which the eating thereof sent man into sin and further more death. Conder however waves away the ideas of the poem bringing about death and even judgment stating this is to merely take the poem “hastily at face value”. Conder feels that the poem is really about a man falling asleep but not sure what kind but the sleep it is but that death is not one the possible forms of sleep. Ironically Conder's own interpretation of a poem, written by an author famous for his riddle like writing, filled with words such as “sleep”, “drowsing” and “tired” is for closer to taking the work at face value than to interpret it as a metaphor for death.
Frost’s writings which are so famously filled with hidden meaning are always a delight to any reader to decode. “After Apple-Picking” with its short lines and lack of immediately recognizable rhythm is no simple task to fully understand. But with a careful eye it is easy to see and even feel the fear of death as it sweeps over the narrator. Frost’s vivid imagery and careful use of symbolism takes his readers from the foreboding of death's arrival to the feeling of sorrow for things and tasks left undone and that will never be fulfilled.
Beacham, Walton. Critical Survey of Poetry: American Poets. Ed. Canfield Reisman, Rosemary M. Charleston Southern University. http://salempress.com/store/samples/critical_survey_poetry/critical_survey_poetry_frost.htm. Salem Press, 2011. Web. 18 April 2011.
Conder, John J. After Apple-Picking': Frost's Troubled Sleep. Frost: Centennial Essays. University Press of Mississippi http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/a_f/frost/apple.htm. University of Illinois Department of English. 1973. Web. 18 April 2011.
hello on February 21, 2013:
what's the citation for the picture?