After Apple-Picking

by Robert Frost

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Dreams as a Reflection of Truths in Reality

As the speaker drifts off to sleep, he begins to fantasize about the apples he picked during the day, and these visualizations multiply in his mind in the strange space between waking and rest. The profusion of sensory images is slightly overwhelming, despite their beauty. The apples he sees are nearly monstrous and seem to move and twist of their own volition, and the detail the speaker can see on each apple (“every fleck of russet showing clear”) seems overpowering. The speaker’s body, too, is deeply involved in these surreal images. He feels not only the “ache” of the ladder’s rungs but also their “pressure,” as if he still stands there—and the whole ladder “sway[s] as the boughs bend,” indicating that the speaker’s movement is intimately tied to those of the apple trees. Too, he hears the sound of many apples being thrown into a cellar bin to be kept for winter.

In these slightly strange appeals to multiple senses (visual, tactile, and auditory), Frost subverts the pastoral conventions that might be expected in a poem about picking apples, and as a result, the speaker’s dreams reflect his reality: he is both satisfied and unsatisfied by the work he has done, and is ultimately uncertain about its worth.

The Necessity of Death as a Counterpart to Life

Taking place in autumn, this poem frequently talks about a coming sleep; this refers both to literal sleep and to the coming winter, which the speaker is obviously preparing for. Winter and sleep are both often used as metaphors for death, and the concept of the harvest is employed in this context to illustrate the end of people’s lives. As in a harvest, the speaker has collected much, both literally and metaphorically; however, in some respects, he is unsure about the worth of his labor. He says that he has “had too much / Of apple-picking,” even if it seemed worthy at the time he labored. He also notes how much of his work was wasted, and laments that so many apples fell and were thrown to the “cider-apple heap / As of no worth”—that is, as if they didn't mean anything, even if they were unbruised or unblemished. Given this, the prospect of death is, while not exactly positive, seen as something necessary. Just as winter follows autumn, death must follow life as the natural next stage. There is a sense of peace and stillness in this poem, despite its dissatisfactions, and Frost conveys a sense of acceptance in death and rest.

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