Saturday, October 24, 2009

after apple-picking, by robert frost

As promised to several of you --

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.

From The Poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem, copyright 1969 by Henry Holt and Co.

See the comments for my thoughts on the poem.

EDIT: This was posted just today (Sunday) on 3QD. Coincidence or do I have lurkers? If the latter -- I encourage you all to comment!


  1. I'm not really good with analyzing poems, but I like how Frost integrates human and nature elements and in the process tells a clever story. I think a lot of his poems have a subtlety to them -- where you have the lesson learned at face value, and then there's something else there under the surface.

    Here, I definitely think he's making an obvious (but beautifully-argued) analogy to life: "For I have had too much/ Of apple-picking: I am tired/ Of the great harvest I myself desired." Furthermore, it's a life full of honest work: ?My instep arch not only keeps the ache,/
    It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round" demonstrating his commitment to something in the face of personal sacrifice.

    So the "subtlety" I mentioned has to do with the last few lines, where he tells us what will trouble "This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is." However, I'm not sure what to make of this part. What's his relation to the woodchuck? Is Frost speaking here about death?

  2. I don't know much about Frost and of course possibily of misreading is much higher for me because of language. But I think he is talking about his death. Not just beacuse the words like 'long sleep' generally associates death in peotry. The background theme of the poem is Autumn or end of Autumn like the autumn of a person's life. And I got the sense that there are still a lot of things he wants to do in life: 'There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch' but winter sleep is coming. And in the end, I think he is trying to say that his long sleep is important only for him but it is just human sleep, the existence of death is sad and tragic but natural and you are only a single point on earth and life will continue wıthout you. He is like speaking with the wisdom of acceptance of this truth. I don't know but I like the poem...

  3. 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.

    I think this is a subtle allusion to the fact that work must be done, progress must be made, but sometimes it all goes for absolutely nothing. When you sit back and reflect on your life, what sort of impact have you made to the grand scheme of things? Not all of us can have a global presence, but what percentage of your life will ultimately go for nothing?

    The woodchuck reference holds a few ideas for me. "Were he not gone" is the transient nature of life. Man is greater than a woodchuck, we live longer and can accomplish more. Yet, he desires to know whether his upcoming sleep will be like the woodchuck's. The similarity is that Frost had been picking apples his life, it's what he dedicated himself to. But, the woodchuck also gathers wood all his life. We can say that man is greater, but in terms of overall impact in life, are they not the same?

  4. What really bothers me is that I have no idea what the pane of glass is a metaphor for. heh heh.

  5. You both make some really excellent points! I totally agree with you Yasemin that you have to take the season into consideration, I didn't think of that but it makes a lot of sense in terms of interpreting the poem as about death.

    Rob -- I think you're right about the importance (or lack thereof) of work and how it relates to the woodchuck, who of course ALSO works.

    The pane of glass is, of course, just a sliver of ice from the "drinking trough" and it may very well be, in terms of Yasemin's interpretation, a sign of what's to come (winter, death?, etc.) since he lets it fall and break. How he uses the ice is to see his surroundings, and it could have to do with his recollections of the past.

    Pretty interesting though...