Summary and Analysis of After Apple Picking

Introduction to the Poem

After Apple Picking by Robert Frost is one the famous lyrics in English poetry. It was published in 1941 in the second edition of poetry; North of Boston. The poem is in first person where the narrator is the apple-picker. After Apple Picking is a very famous poem for rich symbolism. The poem focuses on aspirations, ambitions, and desires of an individual in this world. The main theme of the poems revolves around this point that life ends but work and desires never ends.

Text of the poem:  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 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.


Summary of After Apple Picking by Robert Frost

The poem opens in the first person and narrator (apple-picker: Robert Frost) is standing on a two-pointed ladder and is picking apples in an apple orchard. The poet further elaborates that the ladder is standing straight upright toward sky, indicates to the biblical story of Jacob’s ladder, where Jacob dreams of a ladder that reached Heaven. The narrator wants to fill an empty barrel. However, he is too tired to continue his apple picking work. He has tired and feeling drowsy because of winter weather. He has spent all the day and now night is approaching and he is felling numbness as an individual feels in winter weather because of tiredness and coldness of weather. The narrator is very exhausted, but he wishes to pick all the remaining apples.

During apple picking, he fell into a trance and started dreaming. He compares sleep to an ‘essence’ in the winter air, and feels this essence smells like apples, which reveals narrator’s drowsiness and fatigue. He feels that he is going to fall asleep on the ladder that night. During the dream, he feels that his ladder is swaying with the wind and he saw big apples appearing and disappearing. He also hears the sound of an apple dropping from the tree into an empty barrel. The narrator feels strangeness in his sight as he is looking through a thin sheet of ice and everything is looking strange and distorted. Thin sheet of ice melts and falls into pieces but sight is still vague. The sleep is hovering and soon he starts dreaming.

In his dream, the narrator is experiencing a strange scene. He sees large-size apples appearing and disappearing everywhere. His feet are feeling pain and it looks as he leans, his ladder sways with the bough. In his dreamy picturesque scene, the narrator is in his trance state. After describing the visual scene, the narrator describes what he is hearing in his dream. He is listening rumbling sound of carts carrying load on load on apples. The narrator makes an exaggeration for the quantity of apples that he is imagining. The apple picker has thousands of apples to pick and not to let any of the apples fall down on the ground. Since the narrator has already filled many barrels. He feels himself overtired and fed up with the plenteous harvest he has himself desired so much in the past.

The apple picker is very sensitive in his job and takes utmost care to pick apples. He has plenty of apples to be picked and carefully unloaded into barrels. If an apple falls on the ground because of carelessness, it is treated as rejected and discarded (even unspoiled). Fallen apples lose their worth, and they are placed aside in a large heap for making apple cider. In the last stanza of After Apple Picking, the narrator in not sure that what kind of sleep he is going to get. He compares his sleep to woodchuck’s hibernation in winter and on the other hand, he compares his sleep with normal human sleep. He is not sure that he has died and his imaginations are the imaginations after death or he will be alive again like after normal sleep. He is not sure still about his sleep and guesses that it is normal sleep.

Main themes of After Apple Picking

The poem, After Apple Picking by Robert Frost, has a variety of different themes. The prevailing theme of the poem is life and death. The evening time in the poem clearly hints towards the decline of life that ultimately leads towards death. The poet juxtapose his sleep with the sleep of woodchuck who hibernates in his burrow. The drowsiness on narrator is like the hibernation of woodchuck. The poet is uncertain that his sleep is like hibernation of woodchuck or his real death.

The portrait of the narrator is a depiction of uncertainty of the life. Another prevalent theme of the poem is the impact of Nature on human beings. Nature leaves a deep influence on human beings.

Another theme of the poem is lack of completeness. Like the narrator, everyone wants to complete his all worldly task, but he fails to complete and death arrives to hibernate him.

Symbolism in the poem

The poem After Apple Picking is full of rich symbolism. A symbol is an object, an idea or abstract notion that has other than literal meanings as loin symbolizes courage and valor. Robert Frost used few rich symbols in After Apple Picking. The main symbols in the poem are apple picking, apple picker, apple tree, empty barrel, woodchuck, drowsiness, evening, ladder and uncertainty.

After Apple Picking: After Apple Picking as a whole poem symbolizes life and death.

Apple Picker: The role of the apple picker (speaker/narrator/poet) clearly symbolizes the uncertainty of life as a farmer/worker.

Apple Picking: Apple picking symbolizes worldly affairs in a routine day life.

Apple: Apples are the symbol of desire, deeds and actions in life.

Apple Tree: Apple tree is a symbol of this world that provide different way to achieve goals.

Empty Barrel: Empty barrel in After Apple Picking symbolizes unfulfilled desires, wishes, and goals of a man.

Woodchuck: Woodchuck symbolizes a long sleep that might be a normal sleep or death.

Drowsiness: It symbolizes tiredness due to excessive engagement in worldly affairs.

Evening: Evening and start of dark/night symbolize end of life or impending death.

Ladder: The ladder symbolizes the technique and ways to earn goals.

Swaying of Ladder: The swaying ladder symbolizes the difficulties and hurdles that men have to undergo during work in this world.