After Picking Apple by Robert Frost: Summary and Analysis

After Picking Apple was written and published in 1914 in North of Boston. It is one of the remarkable nature-poems of Frost written in 42 lines. It is written in the first person and rich in symbolism.


Robert Frost



The poem begins with the description of the apple-picker who has stuck his two-pointed ladder through a tree upward. There is barrel that didn't fill, and there are two or three apples more that he didn't pick upon some bough, but he is now completely tired with apple-picking. He feels sleepy, as the winter is well on and the scent of apples is well out. All the objects of Nature appear strange to him now. In the job of apple-picking, he fell into a trance and started dreaming. He is not sure of the kind of dream he saw, but he knows at least one thing that big apples appeared and disappeared. He feels that his ladder was, as though, swayed to and fro along with the wind. After describing the delight of the eyes, he describes the delight of the ears. He tells that from the cellar bin he keeps hearing the rumbling of load on load of apples coming in. He feels also completely tired because of apple-picking. He wishes that the harvest of apples should be bumper, and when his wish is fulfilled, he feels that he is exhausted due to overwork. There are ten thousand apples before him and it is difficult for him to allow anyone of them fall down lest they should be spoilt and worthless. The apple-picker guesses the thing that will trouble him in his sleep, be it whatever kind of sleep. Had he stayed in the apple-orchard, the woodchuck would have told him if his sleep was like the birds, or it was simply human.

To take a fresh start with the poem; we find a set of contrasts gradually developing: the world of summer and the world of winter; the world of labor and the world of rest; the world of effort and the world of reward; the world of wakefulness and the world of sleep; the world of ordinary vision and the world distorted by the ice-view; the world of fact and the world of dream. And we understand that these various pairs are various aspects of a single contrast. A contrast of two views of experience, of the world in general, of life, if you will. In other words, we take a broad, simple, generalized view of apple-picking and harvest-- the end of some human effort in the real world, which is followed by a reward, rest, and dream.

All the sensory images mentioned in the poem are satisfying, but sadly they have become distorted, as if the pleasant dream could change into a nightmare. Emphasizing this impression of fatigue is the sense of awkwardness which affects his senses: Images of smell, sight, movement, hearing and touch are all used. The speaker’s vision is related to looking at the world through a thin sheet of ice which would not present a clear view. He has been off the ladder, but he still can feel its swaying. The apples in his dreams are enlarged to show every mark. The apples of reality had been 'good'; now in a dream the apples become magnified. They become good for contemplation— they become bigger than life, every aspect, stem end and blossom end, every tiny fleck of russet. In the dream, there is freedom from the load of work. He still hears the sound of the wagons in his state of trance.

The speaker finds that the large harvest for which he had wished has become extreme: He has "had too much/ Of apple-picking." He reminiscences all the details of the work with pleasure, but at the same time, he is afraid of the sleep that he feels is coming on. In the trance of the sleep, he recollects not only the ripe apples successfully picked but also those that fell and were thought as damaged and had to be sent to the cider mill. He knows that he will have disturbed sleep because of over tired-whether it be the normal sleep or the sleep of death.

This poem can be interpreted in another way as well. The narrator may be dying and his drowsiness while picking apple is the feverish hallucinations before death. So the expression of the narrator that he is "done with apple-picking now" is the final farewell to the activity of the apple harvest. He feels contented with his action as he has picked almost all apples, except there are few in some bough. He thinks he has fulfilled his obligations towards his job in orchard field. The poem is not merely about apple-picking, but is about life and death as imaged in a set of contrasts: summer-winter; labor-rest; ordinary view and the view seen through the pane of ice. They go on to say that the dream is an image for life-after-death, and indicates the kind of immortality the poet expects or wants. They support this notion by reference to the word 'heaven' in the second line.

The act of picking apple is metaphorical in a sense that it might be a seasonal change or death. Though the speaker does not vividly say winter is coming he gives clues such as; the grass is "hoary," the surface of the water in the trough is frozen enough to be used as a pane of glass, and there is an overall sense of the "essence" of winter. Death is nearing, but the narrator is not sure if the death will be transformed into spring in a few months or if everything will be buried under snow for all the eternity.

The form of this poem is bizarre as it is a mixture of traditional structure and end rhyme form. This drifting form supports Frost's emphasis on the sense of waking and dream like state, just as the narrator of the poem does. There is no break in the stanza. Frost aims to arouse a mood of hesitation and drowsiness, where the speaker would about to drop off to sleep and would be no longer in control of his thoughts of apple. The variation in rhyming pattern and tense creates a confusion when the speaker is waking or sleeping.

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