After Apple Picking: by Robert Frost - Summary & Analysis

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After Apple Picking

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 shake the shimmer from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the water-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 reappear,
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.
And I keep hearing from the cellar-bin
That 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.

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.
After Apple Picking


      After Apple Picking by Robert Frost is one of the greatest of nature lyrics in English poetry. This poem brings out the poet's enjoyment of the scenes, sights, sounds and scents of nature. It is, on the other hand, a reverie or monologue of an exhausted apple-picker. The setting is of course North of Boston, but the poet succeeds in rising from the particular to the general and universal. It embodies a universal experience and as Lynen rightly puts it, it is not necessary to know New England to be able to enjoy the lyrics. After Apple-Picking is a poem that defies any categorization. It is neither a dramatic narrative nor a thought-provoking philosophical poem. If at all one must classify and categorize the poem, it would be aptest to call it a nature-lyric.


      The poem begins with a description of the apple-picker who has stuck his two-pointed ladder through a tree and although there may be two or three barrels that he has not filled and although there may be two or three apples which he didn't pick from some bough yet he does not want to do apple-picking any longer. He is not only fed up of apple-picking, but the scent of the picked apples has induced sleep into him. He feels that he cannot work even if he desires to. To him, all familiar objects of nature assume a strange and unfamiliar aspect and he is unable to remove this film. He feels as though in a trance, he is led away into a world of dreams. The apple-picker is too hazy-minded to distinguish between forms. The apple-picker feels that too much of apple-picking has made him extremely tired and exhausted. Even wish-fulfillment can have negative effects. He himself had wished for a bumper harvest and when it was fulfilled, he is feeling tired owing to too much work. The apple-picker cannot anticipate the type of leisure he will enjoy.

Critical Analysis:

      The poem has been appreciated for its charming and enchanting quality. It is all so simple and exact, so casual yet so original. "A poem of reality, After Apple-Picking has the enchantment of a lingering dream." Cleanth Brooks, one of the most stimulating critics of our times has read a deep symbolic meaning into the poem. "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. The drowsiness which the speaker feels after the completion of the task is associated with the cycle of seasons. Its special character is emphasized by a bit of magic, even though the magic is whimsical." After speculating about the form his dream will take and the noise of apples rumbling, he returns to his own subject of drowsiness, and the phrase, "whatever sleep it is", renews the suggestions that his sleepiness might be something other than human sleep - he might wake into a greater wisdom, greater knowledge.

      Cleanth Brooks further implies that the poem has a particular wisdom to communicate. "The poem even suggests that the sleep is like the sleep of death. We are not to feel that the speaker is necessarily conscious of this. But perhaps we are to feel that, were the analogy to present itself to him, he would accept it.

      The theme thus turns out to be a sort of rustic New England version of "Ripeness is all, though the theme is arrived at casually, stumbled over, almost - and with no effect of literary pretentiousness.

Paraphrase: Line by Line Explanation

      Line. 1-5. My long...some bough - The dramatic setting and initial Commitment in tone is remarkable. "Pre-sleep and sleepy reminiscence of the day, condition all that is said and the speaker's first words show what form his dreamy talk will take."

      Line. 6. But I now - The apple-picker is thoroughly tired and bored with apple-picking. Fatigue and boredom gain on him and he decides that he will have nothing to do with apple-picking now.

      Line. 7-12. Essence of winter...hoary grass - In these lines, there is a very fine and vivid description of the atmosphere in the orchard. This description by the apple-picker gives us the very touch, the very feel of the atmosphere in the orchard. This description is sensuous and becomes alive because the words he chooses are just apt for the description and create an impression of drowsiness. Untermeyer rightly comments that it is a vivid memory of experience that the reader absorbs it physically. I feel it is not a memory of an experience - it is much more - in this description the apple-picker is reliving the experience. The smell of the apples is too overpowering for him. He also senses the quaintness of the world as it appears to the exhausted worker. The scent of apples in this poem reminds us of a similar expression "drowsed with the fume of poppies" in Keat's Ode to Autumn. The apple-picker feels himself pervaded with an oppressive feeling of drowsiness. Here again, we can trace a similarity between this drowsy sleepiness and the drowsy numbness of Keats' Ode to Autumn. The entire landscape and the atmosphere around him assume a mysterious halo and is misted by over with a rare quality of strangeness. These qualities transform the scene completely and the apple-picker can neither get rid of this strange quality nor can he comprehend the transformed world. As he unknowingly steps into the realms of this world of sleepiness the narrative of the fact about the ice skimmed from the trough mingles gradually with the dream, the time references of the tenses become fused and confused. Brower comments on the rhythm and images of the poem:

      "The meaning implied by the self-hypnosis and dreamy confusion of rhythm is finely suggested in the image of the world of 'hoary grass' the blurred seeing of morning that anticipates the night vision. This blurring of experience focuses on the central metaphor of the poem, essence of winter sleep. Essence is both the abstract ultimate nature of sleep and the physical smell, the scent of apples a metaphysical image in T.S. Eliot's sense of the term. Fragrance and sleep blend, and sight and touch merge in. "I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight"

      Line. 18. Magnified apples - Though the apple-picker is seeing the apples against the sky with daylight accuracy and clarity, they appear to be magnified and enlarged. For him, they stand out as symbols for great dream-like spheres

      Line. 19. Stem end and blossom end - This repetitious way of describing the apples over and over again helps in blurring the precise details and giving the whole setup a metaphoric dimension.

      Line. 30. There touch - This line instantly brings to mind the line in The Daffodils-Ten thousand saw I at a glance.

      Line. 37-38. One can....sleep it is - "In these lines tone and rhythm work together beautifully, implying a great deal in relation to Frost's metaphor. The slight elevation of "One can see" recalls the more mysterious seeing of the morning just as the almost banal lyricism of "This sleep of mine" sustains the rhythm of dream confusion. The rest of second line barely iambic, barely rhyming, casual and rough, assures us that the speaker has at least one toe in reality"

      Line. 40-41. The wood chuck...long sleep - This is the closing metaphor of the poem, and as such, it adds to the strangeness of 'winter sleep' by bringing in the non-human death-like sleep of hibernation.

      Line. 42. Or just some human sleep - "The poem is absorbed with states between not only of winter sleep, but of all similar areas where real and unreal appear and disappear. After Apple-Picking illustrates exactly Santayana's remark, that the artist is a person consenting to dream of reality. The consent in this instance is implied in the perfection of the form."


      The poem is strikingly attractive for its daringly different and original use of the couplet. He has used it to his own advantage and power "His couplets have shaken the classical and romantic patterns", and if they have any affinity with earlier couplet styles, it is with the verse of social talk of Swift and Goldsmith.

      Finally, we can say that After Apple-Picking is one of those poems which offer a rare blend of simplicity and symbolism.


      L. 7. Essence of winter sleep - the environment is full of the intoxicating scent of apples. L. 9. I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight - as the apple-picker begins to drowse away, the familiar and the common begins to assume the dimensions of unfamiliarity and strangeness. He cannot rub or wipe off this film of strangeness from his eyes. L. 11. I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough - the ice which he had collected in the morning from the surface of drinking water in a trough, which is a long narrow vessel for watering animals. L. 12. Hoary grass - grass covered with frost or snow. In his drowsy haze, things appear new, strange and unfamiliar as they had appeared to him when he looked at them through the ice he had collected that morning. L. 20. Fleck of russet - every bit or spot of reddish brown color on the apples: L: 21. Instep arch - the prominent upper part of the human foot near its junction with the leg. L. 34. Spiked with stubble - pierced or bruised with some stubble, still standing in the field. L. 38. Whatever sleep it is - a touch of mystery is imparted to the entire aura. The apple-picker is not sure whether his sleep is the ordinary sleep of human beings, or the long winter hibernation of creatures of nature like the woodchuck.

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