After Apple Picking [Line-by-Line Analysis]

After Apple Picking [Line-by-Line Analysis]

Q. Critically explain the poem After Apple Picking by Robert Frost.

Line-By-Line Analysis of the Poem After Apple Picking by Robert Frost

Line 1-5
My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Besides it, there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.

In this stanza, the speaker describes a scene after a day of apple picking. Let’s analyze each line in detail:

My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree

The speaker refers to a ladder used for apple picking, still in a tree. This image sets the stage for the poem, indicating that the apple-picking activity has recently occurred.

The ladder is described as pointing “toward heaven,” which can be interpreted literally and metaphorically. The ladder reaches upwards, allowing the apple-picker to reach the tree’s higher branches. 

The speaker then uses the image of a ladder “pointing toward heaven still,” which can be interpreted as a metaphor for the connection between earthly labour and spiritual aspirations.

 And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill.

The speaker refers to an empty barrel as a sign that there is still work to do. The speaker still needs to meet his goal for the day’s harvest.

Besides it, there may be two or three.

The speaker continues to describe the scene, noting the location of the empty barrel next to the ladder. He also speculates that there might be a few apples left unpicked.

Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.

The speaker admits that they might have left some apples on the tree. It indicates that the task of apple picking is not entirely complete.

Line 6-12
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.

But I am done with apple-picking now.

The speaker declares he has finished apple-picking for now, suggesting a sense of completion or exhaustion from the day’s labour.

Essence of winter sleep is on the night

The speaker describes the atmosphere of the night. It alludes to the approaching winter season and a sense of dormancy.

He wonders if his sleep is temporary rest or if it signifies a more permanent, dreamless sleep akin to death.

The scent of apples: I am drowsing off

The speaker mentions the scent of apples, which lingers after work. The scent has a calming effect on the speaker. It causes him to feel drowsy and ready for rest.

Throughout the poem, Frost employs rich sensory imagery, including the scent of apples, the feel of the ladder, and the taste of winter sleep.

“After Apple-Picking” explores the human experience, focusing on balancing work, life, and the mysterious nature of death.

The poem examines the cyclical nature of life through the seasonal activity of apple picking, and the speaker’s thoughts about sleep and dreams invite readers to contemplate the meaning of life and its inevitable end.

I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight

The speaker experiences a sense of “strangeness” in his sight, perhaps related to his exhaustion or the transition from his work to a state of rest.

The speaker feels uneasy about the things he sees and can’t stop thinking about them.

The line can also metaphorically represent the speaker’s inability to comprehend his experiences and the mysteries of life.

I got from looking through a pane of glass

The line implies that the speaker’s subjective perspective affects how he perceives reality. Just as the pane of glass colors and shapes the images he sees.

His thoughts, memories, and emotions shape his interpretation of his experiences and the world around him.

The speaker recalls an earlier moment when he looked through a pane of glass, which he had removed from a drinking trough that morning.

I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough

Skim: The verb “skim” refers to removing a thin layer of material from the surface of a liquid or another substance. In this case, the speaker describes taking off a sheet of ice that has formed on the water’s surface in the drinking trough. 

Using the word “skim,” the poet implies a gentle and careful removal of the ice layer without disturbing the water beneath it.

Trough: A trough is a long, narrow, open container or basin, usually used to hold water or food for animals, such as horses or cattle. In the poem, the drinking trough is a container for water from which the farm animals would drink. 

Since the poem is set during the harvest season, it can be inferred that the weather is cold, causing the water in the trough to freeze and form a layer of ice on the surface.

And held against the world of hoary grass.

The term “hoary grass” describes the grass covered with frost. The poem is set during the late harvest season when the weather is cold and frosty.

The imagery of hoary grass in the poem helps to establish the atmosphere. It evokes the chilly environment that accompanies the end of the apple-picking season.

It also contributes to the visual contrast between the sheet of ice the speaker holds up and the frost-covered grass in the background.

This contrast underscores the difference between physical, everyday experiences (represented by the grass) and the more mysterious, intangible aspects of life, such as dreams and sleep (represented by the ice).

Line 13-20
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.

 It melted, and I let it fall and break.

The speaker refers to the pane of glass mentioned in the previous line, stating that it melted and fell, breaking in the process.

This line signifies the passage of time and the change in the speaker’s focus from the physical world to the realm of dreams.

But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,

The speaker reveals that he was asleep before the glass fell and broke. This emphasizes the transition from wakefulness to rest and the gradual blurring of the boundaries between reality and dreams.

And I could tell

The phrase “And I could tell” suggests that the speaker possesses self-awareness even as he is slipping into his dreams. He is conscious that he is about to dream and can discern the subject of his dream.

 What form my dreaming was about to take

The speaker knows the “form” of his upcoming dream. The word “form” indicates that the speaker not only knows what he will dream about but can also identify the shape his dream will assume.

Magnified apples appear and disappear,

The act of picking apples has left a strong impression on the speaker’s mind, and these apples continue to occupy his thoughts even in his dreams. These apples seem to come in and out of focus, suggesting a sense of unreality or surrealism.

Stem end and blossom end,

‘Stem end’ refers to the top end of the apple, where the stem was attached. It is typically the narrower end of the apple. ‘Blossom end’ refers to the bottom end of the apple, which is opposite to the stem end.

This attention to detail adds to the surreal quality of the dream, as the speaker’s mind magnifies even the smallest aspects of the apples.

And every fleck of russet showing clear.

The dream is so vivid that every speck or mark on the russet-colored (reddish-brown) apples is visible and clear. The dream’s focus on the apples suggests the speaker’s preoccupation with apple picking and exhaustion.

Line 21-24
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

My instep arch not only keeps the ache

The instep arch is the curved upper part of the foot between the toes and the ankle. The mention of the instep arch emphasizes the physical toll of the day’s labor on the speaker’s body. It is a body part that bears a lot of weight and pressure while standing on a ladder.

The phrase “not only keeps the ache” suggests that the pain in the speaker’s foot persists and remains even after the day’s work. This implies that the experience of apple picking has a lasting impact on the speaker, both physically and mentally.

 It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round

It keeps the pressure” refers to the speaker’s instep arch retaining the pressure sensation even after finishing his work. This emphasizes the lasting impact of physical labor on the speaker’s body.

The term “ladder-round” refers to the rungs of a ladder, which are the horizontal bars that a person steps on while climbing. 

The speaker’s foot continues to feel the pressure of standing on these rungs, suggesting that the sensations from the day’s labor still linger in his body.

I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend

Even as the speaker drifts into sleep and dreams, he can still feel the sensation of the ladder swaying and the tree branches bending.

This line demonstrates the blurring of boundaries between the physical sensations of apple picking and the dream state.

And I keep hearing from the cellar bin

This phrase sets the scene by describing the source of the sound the speaker hears.

The “cellar bin” is a storage area in the basement where the harvested apples are kept. 

The fact that the speaker “keeps hearing” this sound suggests that it is a continuous and familiar part of his life during the apple-picking season.<

Line 25-36
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.

The rumbling sound

It is a sensory detail that helps to convey the auditory experience of the apples being brought into the cellar bin. It creates a vivid mental image of the apples being moved and stored, enhancing the reader’s understanding of the work involved in the apple harvest.

Of load on load of apples coming in

This line emphasizes the volume and repetitive nature of the apple harvest.

“Load on load” implies numerous apples are brought into the cellar bin. It shows the scale of completed work and the work still ahead.

The repeated word “load” also conveys that this ongoing process has engaged the speaker in this labor-intensive task for a while.

For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest
I myself desired.

In these lines, the speaker reflects on his experiences during the apple harvest season and contemplates the nature of sleep, dreams, and life.

The speaker expresses his exhaustion and weariness from the extensive work involved in the apple harvest.

 There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,

The hyperbolic expression “ten thousand thousand” conveys a vast number, implying that the number of apples in the harvest is almost too immense to grasp.

Using this phrase, the poet emphasizes the enormity of the task and the labor-intensive nature of apple picking.

The word “touch” implies the hands-on nature of the work, as each apple must be physically picked and handled by the speaker.

Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.

In this context, the verb “cherish” means to hold or treat something with care and tenderness.

The speaker emphasizes the importance of gently handling the apples as people pick them from the trees, lift them down, and avoid letting them fall.

This line illustrates the precision and care required in the apple-picking process and the speaker’s respect for the fruits of his labor.

For all
That struck the earth,

The speaker explains that people treat apples that fall and hit the ground differently from those they carefully pick from the tree.

No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,

No matter the apples condition after falling (bruised or pierced by grass stubble), people still treat them as inferior to the carefully picked apples.

Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.

Regardless of their condition, the apples that fell to the ground go to the “cider-apple heap. People will use them to make cider rather than sell them as fresh fruit.

The phrase “as of no worth” implies that people consider these apples to have lesser value or quality than those carefully harvested by hand.

Line 37-42
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.

One can see what will trouble
This sleep of min

The speaker acknowledges that specific thoughts, memories, or concerns will likely disturb his sleep.

This statement indicates the speaker’s awareness of the lingering impact of his experiences during the apple-picking season and the emotional weight he carries.

The phrase “whatever sleep it is” conveys a sense of uncertainty about the nature of the sleep the speaker is about to experience.

This uncertainty could be interpreted in several ways:

It could represent the speaker’s transition from physical weariness to a more metaphorical, existential exhaustion.

It might signify the blurry line between sleep and waking. The speaker’s thoughts continue to haunt them during this time.

Alternatively, it could suggest that the speaker contemplates the nature of death since literature sometimes uses sleep as a metaphor for death.

Were he not gone

The speaker mentions the absence of the woodchuck, which could imply that it has either moved away, died, or is already in hibernation.

This creates a longing or curiosity for the wisdom or insight that the woodchuck might provide.

A woodchuck, a groundhog, is a large rodent native to North America.

People know woodchucks for their burrowing habits because they create complex underground tunnel systems for their living quarters.

People often associate woodchucks with Groundhog Day, a tradition celebrated in the United States and Canada on February 2nd.

According to folklore, if a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day and sees its shadow, it will retreat into its burrow, signaling six more weeks of winter. If it doesn’t see its shadow, it means that spring will arrive early.
>In the context of the poem “After Apple-Picking” by Robert Frost, the speaker mentions the woodchuck while pondering the nature of his sleep.

He wonders whether his sleep is similar to the long hibernation of the woodchuck or just regular human sleep.

The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his
Long sleep,

The speaker wonders if the woodchuck could confirm whether his sleep resembles the animal’s long hibernation
Hibernation is a state of deep sleep that helps some animals survive winter. By slowing down their metabolism and respiration rates, animals conserve their energy.

This comparison suggests that the speaker might seek a more profound, restorative sleep beyond ordinary human sleep.

As I describe its coming on, / Or just some human sleep.

The speaker is still determining whether his sleep is an extraordinary, transformative experience (like the woodchuck’s hibernation) or merely a typical human sleep that offers a temporary respite from the weariness of daily life. 

This uncertainty adds to the poem’s contemplative atmosphere as the speaker ponders the nature of his own experiences and seeks to understand this place.

Leave a comment