After Apple-Picking Essay, Research Paper
In the poem “After Apple-Picking”, Robert Frost has cleverly disguised many symbols and allusions to enhance the meaning of the poem. One must understand the parallel to understand the central theme of the poem. The apple mentioned in the poem could be connected to the forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden. It essentially is the beginning of everything earthly and heavenly, therefore repelling death. To understand the complete meaning of Frost’s poem one needs to be aware that for something to be dead, it must have once had life. Though this is not the central theme in this poem, Frost’s symbolic use of the apple makes this concept equally as important. Life and death are common themes in poetry, but this poem focuses on what is in between, life’s missed experiences and the regret that the speaker is left with.
The dictionary definition of regret is, sorrow caused by something beyond one’s power to remedy. This seems to be the state of our speaker, for he states reflectively, “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”. We have established that the apple represents both life and death, and in this instance may we go even further and say that these particular apples represent life experiences, these experiences were missed. Or perhaps knowledge that was not gained, but was desired. The barrels are empty, and seeing this, regret is felt. Nevertheless, “but I am done with apple-picking now”, tells us that our speaker feels he can no longer remedy the empty barrels. He is now at a reflecting point for he tells us that he dreams “magnified apples appear and disappear, stem end and blossom end, and every fleck of russet showing clear”. Through this passage we see that he is reflecting back on his life. Some experiences are clearer than others. Perhaps some are more significant now than they were at the time. By “stem end and blossom end”, we see that our speaker feels he has examined the experiences thoroughly and can now see the “russet” parts of the skin, or the bruises on the apples, the bruises meaning mistakes made.
The reason for the reflection is evident when the speaker says, “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”. From this it seems that our speaker has caught a glimpse of his reflection in the “drinking trough” and has noticed that the reflection was “hoary”, or gray with age. This reflection seems to not only depict his age, but also his regret. It is as if the speaker sees more than just himself in the reflection in the drinking trough. He seems to be seeing visions of his life. “There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch, Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall”. Our speaker seems to be seeing all of his chances, or opportunities. The reverence in which he speaks of them, the word “cherish”, and the actions described give us the sense that the speaker is suddenly now, in reflection, realizing how important this “fruit” was. In the next instance he states that “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 bruises on the fruit represent the mistakes or misused chances, maybe even failure, but the fact that these bruised apples went “to the cider-apple heap as of no worth” seems to be an epiphany to our speaker. He is just now realizing that though these apples were bruised, cider still came from them. It is clear to him now that they went “as of no worth”, only because he did not know that even mistakes have worth, even if just to learn from them.
The reason for the speaker’s sudden surge of regret seems to be looming death, for he states in the very first line, “My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree toward heaven still”. This reference to heaven is the first evidence that the speaker thinks he is going to die. At this point in the poem the references to death, or the end of life, are rather peaceful. “But I am done with apple-picking now. Essence of winter sleep is on the night”. Though the words, “winter”, “sleep”, and “night” typically represent death, they do not represent a violent or scary death. This diction reflects a sort of peace in the speaker’s words, yet as the poem nears to an end he states, “One can see what will trouble this sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is”. This creates the feeling of unrest in the reader throughout the course of reflection has come to a troubling realization. The speaker again states “and I keep hearing from the cellar bin the rumbling sound of load on load of apples coming in”. The fact that this “rumbling” is coming from the “cellar”, or even the fact that it is a rumbling sound, denoted a darker source. This leaves us with the feeling that our speaker feels regret even where his salvation is concerned. This is evident when he says, “My instep arch not only keeps the ache, it keeps the pressure of a ladder-round. I feel the ladder sway as the bows bend”. This ladder, we know is pointed “toward heaven”, or in other words is the path to heaven. But at this point in the poem our speaker seems to think that the ladder may break, sending him to the earth or perhaps the “cellar”.
Up to this point we have come to an acceptance, or a belief, of the speakers looming death. But he surprises us when he says, “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”. We have established a meaning for sleep in this poem, yet Frost now has compared two different kinds of sleep. Can there be two different states of death? Laws of nature would say no, you are either dead or alive. In searching for the significance of this statement, we are brought back to the apple and its representation of both life and death. We, as well as the speaker, are not sure if he is really dying or whether he has simply ceased to live, live as in the act of experiencing life, thus causing the feelings of regret. This humanizes our speaker even further. It is very human to fear death, not just the act of dying, but rather the end of something. It is interesting, though purely speculative, to note that in the year that Frost wrote this poem, he would be turning forty years old. Though the theme for this poem certainly is not “mid-life crisis”, it is however an individual looking back on his life with regret.