Tuesday 9 December 2014

After Apple-Picking by Robert Frost

Robert Frost is on the 2015 HSC poetry list.
My eldest stepson is studying 6 of his poems (rather reluctantly) with his class.
The major theme they're exploring is discovery (or self-discovery).
Robert Frost was born 26th March 1874 and died 1963. 
He won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry four times (1924, 1931, 1937 & 1943). 
He was a special guest at JFK's inauguration, where he wrote a poem especially for the occasion.

My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
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.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it's like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep. 
More self-discovery from Robert Frost!
Is his ladder the bridge to the heavens? Is he questioning his faith? Spiritual discovery?
Is it about aging & resting? Growing old & weary? 
Autumn to winter - middle age to old age? With a renewal or regrowth on the way?
Does he realise he's aging/dying? Looking back on his life - with regrets? or disappointment?
Apples (biblical) - loss of innocence?
Perhaps he is searching for wisdom - picking the fruit of knowledge? Inner discovery?
Or harvesting - storing away the knowledge he has already accumulated? Pondering the choices of his youth?
What does it mean that he is dreaming or in that dream-like, almost asleep stage? 
Is this his sub-conscious speaking? His natural state?


  1. Thank you. Loving the Frost poems.

  2. Anonymous9/12/14

    You've reminded me how much I love Robert Frost.

  3. This is another great poem. I do find that so much of what Frost writes does allude to finite nature of our existence and that theme seems to be all over this poem.

  4. Anonymous9/12/14

    Understood at an allegorical level, this seems to be a poem about death (often symbolized by "winter"), a person reaching the end of their life, and reflecting over the hard work and precious moments and choices they made (symbolized by these apples and the hard work to get them) as "sleep" (also often symbolic for death) comes upon them. We have moments of failure in our life represented (the fallen apples that need to be turned into cider) and choices we didn't make/experiences we didn't get to have (the unpicked apples).

    I suspect a slightly more general reading is possible in which apple-picking and sleep is a metaphor for human endeavors rather than specifically death and an entire lifetime of moments. The event of apple-picking is representative of all human endeavors. His rest is a stopping point upon which he can reflect over his endeavors (which might include things like building something, apple-picking, learning new things, writing poetry, etc.). Even when successful, not all our endeavors need be perfect (hence the unpicked apples and damaged apples on the ground that must be turned into cider).

    1. Thanks for your thoughts and bringing together all the main themes so succinctly.
      Reflection is such a big element of this poem.

  5. I have a poetry journal with only the most special poems written in it. This is one of them. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Can you share with us why it's so special for you ?


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