Weaving in and out of a dream-like state, the persona of Robert Frost’s, “After Apple-Picking,” explores the tendency of man to set impossible personal standards and the desire to give in to the, “long sleep,” (After, 536) when these standards aren’t met. Through deeply intricate structure Frost paints a portrait of a man on the brink of self proclaimed failure and the exhaustion he faces after spending so long fighting his inevitable defeat.
The poem begins in an action. The persona is observing his ladder still, “sticking through a tree,” (After, 535) while making the decision to not pick the remaining apples from the orchard. He then tells of a tiredness that has grasped him since seeing the first ice of winter on his drinking trough. The persona worries for the state of his dreams when he, inevitably, falls asleep. On the brink of sleep he imagines flawed apples appearing before him, notes the “ache” and “pressure” (After, 535) that remains in his feet from the ladder rungs, and finally thinks he hears the “rumbling sound of a load of apples” being poured into his cellar. Then, in a moment of clarity, he proclaims he has “had too much of apple-picking.” (After, 535) He is fraught with the guilt of having dropped the apples he has dropped and, despite having so carefully placed so many into barrels, only sees the failures of his past. He lingers on this feeling of self reproach and claims that the apples he dropped, whether bruised or unmarred, were “of no worth.” (After, 535) These standards of perfection are what plagues the persona’s sleep. In closing, he wishes he could speak to a woodchuck, claimi...
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There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
These lines repeat the rhyme scheme of the opening six lines, thereby enhancing the theme of a great love lost through the death of the apple-pickers passion. Within these six lines is perhaps the most thematically important transition in the poem, found within the final rhyming couplet. As the persona recalls for the first time his former love for picking apples, he reminds himself of the apples that he has dropped. The rhyme between “fall” and “all” reinforces the persona’s inability to separate the positive memories from the negative. He only allows himself one line to remember the good, but cannot allow himself the full length of the line to reminisce. The deep-seated guilt at having let any apples fall will not let him.
Frost’s “After Apple Picking”
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