View Full Version : Rate a Poem: After Apple-picking

03-21-2016, 01:35 AM
After Apple-Picking
~ Robert Frost

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.


Frost’s preference for traditional verse forms makes ‘After Apple-picking’ with its variable line measures and widely spread parallelisms something of a rarity. It consists of a single stanza in 42 verses with each ranging between catalectic off-beats and hendecasyllabic measure. However, the poem is not free-verse. Frost has carefully structured the rhythm to evoke a sense of rambling detachment, yet contains his thoughts masterfully within the framework, drawing the reader into the hesitation and near-drowsiness of the narrative. We await the dream the narrator is expecting just as if we would be allowed to share in it—yet it never really comes in any true sense; instead, Frost plays on our expectation and teases us with common symbols and deviations while he constructs a pseudo-dreamstate on the moment of transition.

The poem leans heavily on a single persistent conceit: harvesting apples. Instead of waxing poetic with metaphysical language and metaphorical wrapping, Frost uses precise images relating directly to the activity taking place, and incorporates rhythmic patterns which force a drawl—this subliminally reinforces the background subtext of the narrator’s fatigue. His word choice and register are also explicitly selected for the same purpose, and we are every so often reminded via connotations of falling.

After Apple-picking reminds me of everything I love best about Frost’s poetry. The language is poetic without being purple or flowery; every image, every word carefully considered and promoted—somewhere between natural and stilted, the poem conveys a voice that shares intimately with a casual richness and evocative tone. Yet at the same time, almost unnoticed, Frost provides a multi-layered mini-universe in and between the poem’s lines. The reader is no mere observer in all this; we get to delve into things like why Frost wants to tell us the ladder is pointed to the heavens when ‘skyward’ would have said enough. Indeed the ladder would have to be up-right in the tree to enable picking, making the entire description of its positioning redundant, but it isn’t—Frost is teasing again. We know the symbolism; we know this man is tired of apple picking, just as he is tired from it. It’s not a description at all. It’s a statement to where this poem is heading. Yet another connotation: we are prepped to acknowledge the concept of a life’s obligation and eventual ascent of the soul even before it is introduced. Further still, all the sensory images should be pleasant, but they are malformed, distorted into the seminal glue of the oncoming dream—the premature flags of a potential nightmare. The adroit metre, in this case irregularities in the poem’s structure to create a staggering sensation; the shorter verses with each syllable stressed ensure equal emphasis across the line. We are invited to question along with the narrator if a job done is done well enough; whether his earthly obligations are satisfactory enough for entrance through the pearly gates, and we get to share in the anxiety and fear that it is not. All of that in a deceptively simple setting.

03-21-2016, 01:51 AM
Frost has always been one of my favorites. Your comments on the poem were insightful and interesting. I enjoyed reading them once I got past the first word, "Despite." :D

03-21-2016, 11:36 AM
Frost has always been one of my favorites. Your comments on the poem were insightful and interesting. I enjoyed reading them once I got past the first word, "Despite." :D

Yeah, that was a weird sentence. I went back and fixed it :) Thanks CD. I think if you're going to gush, do it right (yes, my write up is me gushing :)). I could have gone on for several paragraphs more--I could have discussed the underlying notion of sleep, mentioned the difference between the sleep inferred by the narrator and the long sleep of the woodchuck (hibernation), and the intentional ambiguity of 'some human sleep'; I could have highlighted the doubt by pointing at the barrel's state; brought forward the fear by mention of the appels, those that are perfect but for falling will become cider--and those that imply unfulfilled obligation by being left in the tree to sour and rot, and their implications for the speaker. I could have discussed the timescape: the end of summer and onset of the colder seasons. But I didn't, I wanted to leave those points for those that had possibly not read this before.

03-21-2016, 02:04 PM
It's been a long time since I read this one, I very much appreciate the post. Reading it from the opposite end of life I wish I could remember what I thought about it at age 10.

How he clings so firmly to his metaphor, turning it to examine every angle, reaching for every related image and making it all fit together. None seems to be thrown in only because he could, but used to it's fullest, by which I mean each means something to me.

He manages to be clear as a bell and still leave so much room to wander.

"My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round."

This morning these lines are my favorite, how they are not saved until the end but inserted amid all the opportunities and possibilities, the constant pain without which all balance would be lost.

The use of rhyme and meter is a perfect example of knowing the rules so that you can break them, all for the benefit of this particular poem, all to achieve a desired effect. For me, inspirational.

03-22-2016, 12:14 PM
'Inspirational' is exactly the right word. I read a poem like this and I think, 'I want to write something like this'. After Apple-picking is a poem which can be read and enjoyed for the surface alone, but is equally engaging and special when you dig into it, and shift about among the component parts. Frost, like Clare, also never actually tells the reader anything explicitly, instead their poetry seems to want for something; not like a longing or a yearning, no demand as such, but a need, even without any absolute question being asked—so, no matter how deep the poet may be buried in their conceit, the reader can touch his humanity just above the surface. That vulnerability, for me, is what keeps me in a poem. What I also really admire and can't help but be inspired by is how Frost and Clare aren't afraid to show the craft: if you want to see, then every fold and seam, and the stitching, is visibly on display (example: my few paragraphs in the first post make a very light touch on an analysis). Nothing is hidden away or waxed over by pretentious or indulgent constructs. So I can also say/think, 'I can write something like this'.

03-22-2016, 01:24 PM
Having said all that, I also think it important to have balance in a discussion. Poetry is subjective, so I'd be curious to hear views not in-line with my own. If a reader is left cold for example, that's interesting too.