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. 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.
Regret is defined as “a feeling of disappointment or distress about something that one wishes could be different” (www.dictionary.com). While there is no doubt that the speaker in this poem has had a very productive and worthwhile life, one gets the impression that there is still an empty feeling in his life, of which he can do nothing about. In lines 3-6, he reflectively states, “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”. Here, it is necessary to expand that idea the idea of the apples as a metaphor for life, and say that they also represent missed life experiences. As the speaker looks back on his life, he sees unfinished tasks, and thus he feels regret. It is important to note though, that he accepts the fact that he can do nothing about these unfinished tasks, and he is ready to move to a new and final stage in his life as he acknowledges that he “is done with apple-picking now” (6).
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” (9-10). From this it seems as though the speaker has caught a glimpse of his reflection in the drinking trough and has noticed that the reflection was or gray with age. It appears as though the speaker does not merely see himself in the water’s reflection though; he also visualizes past visions and memories from his life.
Further on in the poem, the speaker says, “There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch, Cherish in han...
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... or perhaps even to the “cellar” (a metaphor for Hell).
By the end of the poem, both the speaker and the reader have come to a general acceptance regarding the speaker’s looming death. It therefore comes as a bit of a shock when the speaker 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”. The metaphorical meaning of sleep in this poem has been previously established, however, a new definition surfaces as a result of this statement. Frost has just written of two different types of sleep—is it possible that he is talking about two different states of death? In searching for the significance of this statement, it is necessary to return to the apple and its representation of both life and death. The reader, as well as the speaker, is not sure if he is really dying or whether he has simply ceased feeling and experiencing life, thus causing the feelings of regret. It is interesting, though purely speculative, to note that in the year that Frost wrote this poem, he would be turning forty years old. One must wonder whether Frost was looking back on his own life thus far with some sort of regret.
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