After Apple-Picking

by Robert Frost

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What poetic devices are used in "After Apple-Picking"?

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There are many poetic devices in the poem "After Apple-Picking." Frost makes use of metaphor when he speaks of the ladder ascending to heaven. The harvest itself may also be a metaphor. He uses consonance when repeating the word sleep. He also uses assonance and alliteration in many lines.

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There are many clues throughout Robert Frost's poem that point to figurative language. Frost especially employs metaphors. The harvest that the poem's speaker refers to is likely not just the apples that he has picked. It is the fruit of labor that he has begun and ceased as all humanity does. He has grown weary of his labor, but it is not simply the labor of apple-picking. He senses the onset of winter. Winter can be symbolic of either a pause or an end like death. The symbolism of the top of the ladder pointing "toward heaven" further suggests a journey to the afterlife. The fact that the speaker has left the ladder may suggest that he isn't yet ready for that final climb. Nevertheless, he is aware of his own mortality.

Frost uses repetition; the word "sleep" appears six times. The repetition functions to deepen a theme in the poem. It also intensifies the ambiguity of whether sleep is meant to connote a rest that is a cyclical aspect of our lives and nature's seasons, or if it rather stands for the very common euphemism for death. The occasional departures from a mostly regular iambic meter are another technique that Frost uses to intensify the mood of uncertainty.

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Frost uses many poetic devices in "After Apple Picking," a few of which I will discuss here.

Let's start with extended metaphor. The entire poem is generally thought to be an extended metaphor, meaning that when Frost describes apple picking and its aftermath, he is really talking about something else.

What that something else might be is not exactly clear, although many scholars believe that Frost is talking about death. To support this claim, they look to Frost's mention of "heaven" in line 2, as well as the various images of sleep—an activity often associated with or symbolic of death—that are found throughout the poem.

Speaking of sleep, Frost also utilizes a poetic device known as consonance to drive home the drowsy and lethargic mood of the poem. Consonance is defined as the repetition of consonant sounds, and it is often used by poets to create a specific effect. Note that consonance only refers to consonant sounds and not merely a repetition of letters.

Take, for instance, this line from "After Apple Picking":

The scent of apples: I am drowsing off. (line 8)

Notice the repetition of the s sound that is found in the words "scent," "apples," and "drowsing"; that is an example of consonance. Frost uses that s sound here in order to induce in the reader the same sense of drowsiness that he describes in the poem.

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The poem contains numerous literary devices that are common to poetry. These include metaphor, assonance, alliteration, and consonance.

Metaphor is direct comparison. The poem’s speaker calls a sheet of ice

a pane of glass

I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough.

Assonance is repetition of vowel sounds, either exactly the same or almost the same. “Magnified apples appear and disappear” has the short “a” of “magnified" three times, the similar “uh” or schwa sound of the “a” in “appear” twice, and the long “e” of “appear” twice. “Of load on load of apples coming in” similarly uses “o” sounds numerous times.

Alliteration is the repetition of initial consonant sounds, while consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds anywhere within a word. Frost also uses these in combination.

My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree

Toward heaven still.

This phrase has alliteration in the initial “l”—“long,” “ladder”—combined with consonance, the final “l” in “still.” Likewise, he uses both with “t” sounds: alliteration in “two,” “tree,” and “toward,” and the similar “th” of “through”; paired with consonance in “pointed” and “sticking.”

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There are several poetic devices in the poem. I'll give you a few examples to help you get started on finding more.

One device Frost uses is rhyme. Look at the first four lines. Line 1 ends with "tree," line 2 with "still," line 3 with "fill," and line 4 with "three." This makes and ABBA rhyme scheme. Line 5 ends with a new sound, "bough," so we assign a new letter, C, to that line. See if you can figure out the rhyme scheme for the entire poem.

Another device he uses is imagery, which is the mental pictures evoked by the poem. I imagine a chilly late-fall afternoon when I read the poem. What images does it evoke in you?

Another device is alliteration, which is the repetition of sounds. Around the middle of the poem, Frost keeps repeating the "s" sound:

Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.  
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.

Toward the end of the poem, Frost uses personification: "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."

According to the Masterplots commentary, the entire poem is an extended metaphor "in which the activity of harvesting apples represents other kinds of activity."

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