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Symbolism threads through Robert Frost’s poem “After Apple-Picking.” Apples, the symbol of life and the downfall of life, are the topic of the poem from start to finish. The ladder is one of the first symbols encountered in the poem. At the beginning of the poem, the ladder is pointed “Toward heaven still.” Later in the poem, the poet speaks of how the rungs of the ladder can be felt in the bottoms of his feet and how weary he is of the apple harvest. This is symbolic of the difficulty of his life’s work as he toils to reach heaven.
The apple picker has a hard time looking through the “pane of glass” which is a piece of ice that formed on the drinking trough. He cannot see clearly through the ice as it distorts his vision and he cannot seem to recover from that. In other words, he cannot see what is to come now that his hard work is complete, and the harvest is in.
Two symbols interwoven through the poem are sleep and dreaming. The speaker wonders what form his sleep will take, even alluding to the hibernation of the woodchuck: ”The woodchuck could say whether it's like his Long sleep, as I describe its coming on, Or just some human sleep.” He is questioning if the sleep he feels coming on is a simple repose, or the eternal sleep of death.
The season of winter symbolizes the end of one’s life.
Is Robert Frost metaphorically saying that the speaker is nearing the end of a hard working life, but the ending and what comes after is not clear? Some would argue, yes, that is what the symbolism means.
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