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Poetry Analysis: Robert Frost's "After Apple-Picking"

Rukhaya MK, an award-winning writer, has published her works in national and international anthologies and journals.


"After Apple-Picking" is one of Frost's frequently anthologized poems. It first appeared in Frost's second collection North of Boston. The poem of 42 lines reflects the speaker's ruminations after a day of apple-picking. Though the ladder remains still placed on the tree and the barrels stay unfilled, he firmly asserts that he has completed the job of apple-picking.The two pointed ladder points to the two sided logical alternatives of life, like the two roads in “The Road Not Taken.”

He retires to sleep with the scent of apples lingering in the air and recalls the odd feeling that overcame him as he looked through a sheet of ice that he had had taken from a drinking trough. As he dozes off, he recalls how the ice melted as it projected through the "the world of hoary grass." While the poet enters sleep, he realizes that the dream is an exaggerated expression of the day's events. At once the pane of ice functions as an objective correlative of the dream that gives him a blurred view of factuality. The speaker through the recreation of his experience relives the incident of apple-picking. The lines are said to be inspired by Emerson's words in his "Experience" that after the Fall, we see only "mediately" as through a distorting lens, never comprehending who or what we are. There were many around him to be picked up warily .The apples seemed exaggerated in the sleep, as they kept appearing and disappearing. The minutest details were conspicuous such as the 'stem end and blossom end.'The slightest traces of russets were showing clear. The speaker can also apprehend the swaying of the ladder (in his dream) as the boughs bend. The 'instep' arch of the poet keeps his ache intact, however it also seems to uphold the balance of the ladder.

Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.

The poet meanwhile does not fail to discern the rumbling sound of apples coming in from the cellar bin. He comprehends that he has had too much of apple-picking. Whatever has fallen, "no matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble," will eventually go as discards to the pile utilized for making cider. .He is ultimately tired of the 'harvest' that he himself desired for, though 'there were ten thousand fruits' to cherish right now. The long sleep in such a stance functions as a symbol of death, further as the underground woodchuck can adjudge it best. A distinction has to made between the long sleep of the wood chuck or hibernation during winter, and permanent sleep referred to by the poet namely Death. In the first case, storing or saving up is positive, but in the case of human beings the investments of life do not in any way enter the long sleep of death. Laurence Perline mentions that whatever sleep it is, it portrays "a continuation of earthly activity."

"There are many other things I have found myself saying about poetry, but the chiefest of these is that it is metaphor, saying one thing and meaning another, saying one thing in terms of another, the pleasure of ulteriority" says Robert Frost in an essay for The Atlantic Monthly(1946).Therefore, the poet connotes more then he denotes in most of his poems. The activity of apple-picking strikes us therefore, as- 'saving' for a rainy day. The poet refers to his saving for a brighter future that appears magnified and exaggerated to him. Each penny is 'saved' warily with some remaining spent in ignorance/denial. People save throughout their lives and at some point reach a saturation point. The 'ten thousand fruits' in his hands to touch and cherish now seem to be meaningless. The structure of the ladder reflects the graph of life, in such a stance with the exposition and climax and denouement. Life begins from nothing and verges towards nothing. So the action of apple-picking turns out to be futile .

As he senses death around the corner, the whole endeavour comes across as 'fruitless', literally and metaphorically. Ascending the ladder at once transforms into the journey of life. The ladder still towards heaven points to the road to extravagance(regardless of saving).The balance the poet attempts to uphold becomes the financial equilibrium he tries to maintain. The crux of the poem is- whatever mode of life one undertakes, Death is the Ultimate Truth towards which all proceed..Just like all the apples that proceed as rejects for cider.

Robert Frost reads After Apple-Picking

© 2018 Rukhaya M K