In Robert Frost's "After Apple-Picking" why does the narrator refer repeatedly to sleep?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This brilliantly allegorical poem presents us with a man who is exhausted after working long and hard picking apples. As he contemplates the dream he expects to have, he recalls the details of picking apples. He recalls the rungs of the ladder that he climbed to pick apples, the smell of them, and the sound of the wagons carrying their apples into the barn. However, less pleasantly, he realises that he has had enough of apple picking and now finds the bountiful harvest that he had once wanted to be excessive. Likewise, just before he falls asleep he thinks about the fallen apples that had to be taken away to the cider mill. He feels his sleep will be troubled more by these failures than by his successes. The poem ends with the poet's ignorance about what kind of sleep he will enter in to: it may be a form of hibernation or death.

Sleep is something that is used symbolically in other Frost poems, such as "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," to refer to death. Many critics see this poem as an allegory about the art of poetry and being a poet. The speaker has wished for a successful poetic career and has many poems that have been successes. However, now, looking back, he sees how this career has made him completely exhausted. He doesn't want anything else to do with it. He feels his "sleep" will be dominated by the failures, the "apples" or ideas that he started but never finished, then by his successes. Lastly, he is concerned about the state of sleep he will enter, and Frost explores different attitudes towards what lies beyond our death. Will it be a kind of hibernation, where we stay asleep for a time and wake up into a different world? Or will it be an ending rather than something that heralds a new beginning? Either way, sleep is focussed on so much because it is what the speaker desires and wants now, as he is so tired after his toil.

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