What symbolism can be found in the poem "After Apple- Picking"?

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droxonian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"After Apple Picking" is a poem about life and death, the veil that separates these, and the connection between death and sleep. Its key symbol, the apple, is one which has represented life in many cultures—the apple recalls the Norse golden apples of Idun, which the gods must eat in order to remain young and immortal. In the same way, the speaker "desired...a great harvest" of apples, until weariness overcomes him: "I am done with apple-picking now." For as long as he picked the apples, he was truly alive, but as he stops picking them, he feels himself "drowsing off."

The speaker also wonders whether the work of his life has been worth it. Having spent a life picking apples—here, the apple-picking represents the various toils of any life—he now thinks of them all going "surely to the apple-cider heap/As of no worth." The works of his life, the imagery suggests, will disintegrate and be forgotten.

The "long-pointed ladder" sticking through "a tree towards heaven" is a clear suggestion that the speaker is about to climb upward to another world. It recalls Jacob's Ladder, but also perhaps Jack's beanstalk, or Norse Yggdrasil. It symbolizes a physical means of climbing up into another plane of existence, and it is intrinsically connected to the tree—"I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend."

Finally, sleep in the poem is connected to mirrors and reflections. The speaker's "drowsiness" appears early, before he describes the "strangeness" felt upon seeing himself reflected in ice. The distorted reflection is an image of the altered state between sleeping and waking, or life and death; as a reflection is beyond glass, the other world at the top of the ladder is on the opposite side of a veil. The speaker anticipates his "dreaming," unsure of what it will contain or what form it will take, but he feels sure there will be apples—the universal symbol of life—there, too.

beateach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are several distinctly Christian symbols in Robert Frost's poem "After Apple-Picking." 

First, the most important Christian image associated with the poem can be found in the title. In Genesis, humans pick and eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. This leads to them being kicked out of the Garden of Eden.

The poem opens with a description of a ladder sticking through a tree to heaven. This evokes Genesis 28:10-17, in which Jacob dreams of a ladder reaching up from earth to Heaven. The narrator, like Jacob, has dream visions.

Finally, much of the poem describes the sorting of good apples from bad ones and of picking apples to avoid letting them fall. In Biblical terms, this would symbolize the "harvest of souls" described in Revelation 14:15-16, and other parts of the New Testament, in which God picks the good souls for salvation and casts out the bad ones, just as Frost's narrator describes the good apples being picked and the rest cast into a "cider-apple heap / As of no worth."

Thus, symbolically, the poem moves from humanity's expulsion from the Garden of Eden to the Last Judgement.