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Life After Apple Picking

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Life After Apple Picking

Like a lot of poetry Robert Frost's “After Apple Picking” does not come to a straightforward conclusion at the end of its literary journey, however, much can be said about the change in meaning within the poem from beginning to conclusion. At first glance, “After Apple Picking” seems like a straightforward poem about a person finishing their days work of picking apples. I intend to show that this is not the case at all and that Frost's poem progressively shifts throughout its entirety from a simple poem about apple picking to a literary piece about mortality. This journey will consist of four sections an introduction, a reflection, a realization and finally end with the acceptance of death. As stated above the first six lines showcase a very simple situation about a person completing their apple picking for the day. This simple situation that Frost outlines for the reader is the introduction to the poems overall journey. The introduction, outlines the central focus of the poem, which is apple picking and most importantly provides the reader with a sense of what is to come. There are in fact many hints that provide the reader with more insight into this sense of what is to come. The first line of the poem provides the reader with a picture of a ladder resting against a tree but it is not until the second line when that ladder is paired with the mention of heaven that the image of death is revealed. These images are revealed even further as the poem continues, “And there is a barrel that I didn't fill/Beside it and there may be two or three/ Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.”(Line 3-5). As the images of apples begin to parallel the experiences of life and the empty barrels are seen as missed opportunities the reader can see that Frost's poem is talking about life and death. With each line a new connection can be made to the previous line and this sense of continuity holds true throughout the entirety of the poem. The first of these connections comes with the abruptly placed line “But I am done with apple-picking now”(Line 6). Diction is crucial throughout the entirety of the poem but especially in specific lines, line number 6 is the first instance where this is true. Frost could have used countless other words but choose to utilize “now” as the one to end the line. This placement of the word “now” is critically important because of the sense of finality that is carried with it. The word “now” changes the meaning of the poem from simply a story about an apple picker to that of a much more serious analysis of human nature. This shift not only deepens the meaning but acts as a transition from the introduction to the reflective section of the poem. The message that this crucial line relays makes it clear to the reader that Frost is not just talking about picking apples he is talking about a life coming to an end and as the finality of the word “now” reveals, this end is imminent. The images that are highlighted within this section of the poem carry within them a sense of impending doom and especially of fear. This sense of fear is apparent with the countless references to winter as an image for death. The most evident sense of fear is shown by the destruction of the pane of ice that is skimmed from the drinking trough midway through the poem, “I got from looking at a pane of glass/ I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough.../It melted, and I let it fall and break”(Line 10-13). Ice in this quotation is yet another reference to winter and by letting the ice fall to the ground and shatter Frost is showcasing that the speaker is paralysed by the thought of death. This indicates to the reader that at this point in the poem he is not ready to die and is more concerned with reflecting on the life that he will inevitably lose. Unlike the poetry of Adam Sol, Robert Frost's “After Apple Picking” has more than one dividing line within it that signifies a change in the poem. The second line that represents a significant change in the direction of “After Apple Picking” reads “Of the great harvest I myself desired” (Line 29). This is yet another instance in the poem where diction is key. Frost's choice of past tense with the word “desired” shows the divide in the poem from reflection to realization. By saying “desired” instead of desire Frost highlights the fact that the ideal life or “great harvest” is coming to a close and that the speaker in the poem is coming to accept it. This transition from reflection to realization provides the reader with an even deeper meaning of the poem and this new perspective provides even more insight into the images meanings. In the reflective stage of “After Apple Picking” apples represented the good and bad deeds of life particularly between lines 23 and 26 with the passage, “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.” These lines paint a clear picture of the ladder, which the speaker is perched on swaying back and forth as each load of apples is dropped into the cellar bin, however when the imagery is included the line means much more. As the reader knows by this point the ladder is an image for heaven and it is easy enough to realize that the cellar bin is then an image for hell. It is because of this imagery that the reader can conclude that the apples, which represent bad deeds in life, are swaying the ladder and bringing the speaker closer to hell, while the good deeds are steadying the ladder and keeping the speaker perched in a heavenly position. The verses that come before line 29 differ from the ones that follow, in the sense that they reveal to the reader that death is inevitable and that missed opportunities or the things in life that we are unable to accomplish are not something that one should dwell on. This statement is especially true in the 30th line of the poem, “There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch.” In this quotation Frost is highlighting the many missed opportunities of the speakers life but continues on to show that these opportunities, good and bad all have a purpose. In the lines that follow Frost outlines the details of apples becoming apple cider, “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” (Line 31-35). This is an excellent example of the speakers acceptance of the death that is to come. During the realization section apples still hold true to their previously stated image of the good and bad deeds of life and it is the above quotation about apple-cider that makes this clear. The key point that Frost is trying to make with his reference to apple cider is that apples or the good and especially the bad deeds of life can be made into something good and useful and that most importantly everything has its purpose. From this scenario, it is clear that the speaker has accepted the inevitability of death and has come to terms with the life that he has led. The third and final change in Frost's poem comes with the lines, “One can see what will trouble/ This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.” (Line 37-38) These lines are potentially the closing statement of the poem and signify the speakers acceptance of the end of his journey or life. When read aloud the reader gets a clear tone of peace in this stage of the writing and now it is Frost's tone not imagery that is most important. This new tone, which is only present at the end of the poem is due to three things, Frost's use of assonance, alliteration and punctuation. The assonance in this section of the poem focuses on the sounds made by the vowels o and u especially in line 40 where Frost refers to a woodchuck. This reference can be seen as a image for hibernation or long sleep but more importantly it is included due to the complexity of the word. Woodchuck is a difficult word and the reader must slow down in order to read the line clearly. The same can be said about alliteration, the word sleep and more specifically the letter s is repeated numerous times throughout the final 7 lines of the poem. Line 41 reads, “Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,”again, the sound made by s is a very slowing one which causes the reader to change the pace at which they go through the poem, this line contains 4 s sounds alone. Finally, the most apparent way in which Frost slows down the pace of the poem is with the inclusion of commas. In the final lines of the poem Frost uses almost one comma per line and in line 41 uses two. This significantly slows down the pace of the poem by providing breaks or pauses which the reader naturally abides by. The purpose of this change in pace is to provide the reader insight into what is going on in the speakers situation. This slow pace presents a very peaceful and wholesome tone for the reader which parallels the feelings of the speaker. These concepts work together in order to slow down the reading of the text and provide the reader with this desired peaceful tone. This reveals to the reader that the speaker has accepted his fate and is no longer struggling against death but finally embracing its inevitability. Overall Robert Frost's poem “After Apple Picking” is a journey that everyone must travel, put to paper. It is through the use of imagery, metaphor and tone that After Apple Picking progresses through the stages of introduction, reflection, realization and acceptance of death. These unique stages offer the reader new insight into the poem with each new literary device that it presented. By utilizing numerous crucial lines Frost not only changes the literary device that he uses but also the entire feeling that the reader gets from the poem. In closing Frost ends in much the same way that life does, with loose ends. Although the ending is very ambiguous it is this ambiguity that completes the poem.

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