Sunday at the Apple Market

by Peter Meinke

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Themes and Meanings

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“Sunday at the Apple Market,” with its predominantly joyous mood and just the end suggestion of caution, fits the tone of Meinke’s collection The Night Train and the Golden Bird. As the title may suggest, the collection mixes poetry of darkness with poetry of light. The first twenty-five poems—many of which deal with sadness, loss, disease, and death—follow the heading “The Night Train.” The remaining twenty-five poems—including “Sunday at the Apple Market”—follow the heading “The Golden Bird.” Yet the two sections of the collection aren’t complete contrasts. Several of the poems in “The Night Train” section contain subject matter that lightens some of the dark views. Additionally, the dark tone of the early poems occasionally makes its way, sometimes unexpectedly, into those in “The Golden Bird” section, as with the concluding comment in “Sunday at the Apple Market.”

Although the poem focuses on a joyous slice of life, the concluding comment says, through implication, that such joy is not the norm. The body of the poem is light and carefree, with the sensory details clearly making the mood positive. The reader is left, though, to ponder the implication of the conclusion: Why is such an atmosphere rare? These people are joyous on “one Sunday afternoon.” They clearly have the desire and ability to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Yet the conclusion implies that time spent in this way is minimal. Mixing the light with the serious or the positive with the negative is not unusual for Meinke.

The poetic vision that inspires the simple and common diction of “Sunday at the Apple Market” is directly expressed in “The Heart’s Location,” the poem that opens “The Golden Bird” section of the collection. Suicide is the subject of “The Heart’s Location” as it is the subject of both the first and last poem in “The Night Train” section. Yet here suicide is treated lightly, as a foolish thought. The speaker in “The Heart’s Location” finds life worth living in order to “search/ fora poem full of ordinary words/ about simple things/ in the inconsolable rhythms of the heart.” The mixture of positive and negative is here, as it is in “Sunday at the Apple Market”; the speaker in both poems recognizes the dark but is still enchanted with the light. The possibilities of joy remain despite the knowledge that joy is sometimes difficult to maintain.

Two other American poems that “Sunday at the Apple Market” may bring to mind are Hart Crane’s “Sunday Morning Apples,” from White Buildings (1926), and Robert Frost’s “After Apple Picking,” from North of Boston (1914). All three titles with their reference to apples suggest the simple delights of a rural experience. Crane’s free-verse poem, with its dedication to the painter William Sommer, shows the influence of the Imagists. The poem ends with a description of a still life that the apples inspire. Frost’s poem, on the other hand, is clearly more philosophic, more of a contrast in form and tone to “Sunday at the Apple Market.” Frost uses end rhyme, and the mood of his poem is throughout more somber; instead of the conviviality of Meinke’s scene, Frost’s speaker ruminates in isolation, and instead of Meinke’s gaiety and activity, the Frost poem speaks of tiredness and sleep and suggests death.

“Sunday at the Apple Market,” although clear and easily accessible, contains some of the mix of forms and ideas that Meinke frequently uses. Basically written in open form, the poem ends with an obvious exact rhyme; predominantly upbeat in tone, the concluding commentary adds a touch of dismay at the unspoken weekday life of the Sunday apple enthusiasts. From everyday life, Meinke suggests deeper philosophic concerns. Yet the power of the sensory details in the body of the poem leaves the reader with a positive response to the life Meinke portrays in the poem; the possibility of such freedom and gaiety is affirmed.

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