In “Sunday at the Apple Market” Peter Meinke uses free verse to portray the gaiety and freedom associated with a Sunday afternoon visit to an orchard to stock up on apples. The seventeen-line poem depends on images to suggest all the sensory pleasures of such a visit.
Meinke uses punctuation and capitalization sparsely, yet the reader can readily see separate introductory, middle, and concluding sections. The first two lines that introduce the subject indicate the open form of the poem. The opening “Apple-smell everywhere!” contrasts with the slower pace of the second line: “Haralson McIntosh Fireside Rome.” This opening gives the reader entrance to the general atmosphere of the orchard market, one focused on the olfactory sense. The middle of the poem—lines 3-15—presents seven snapshots describing the orchard market scene: a shed with cider presses, ladders leaning against the now fruitless apple trees, apples of several colors stacked high in a barn, people gathered around a “testing table,” “dogs barking at children,” doting couples, and people loading their cars with the apples. The last two and a half lines provide the conclusion. They begin with a reiteration of the prevalent apple smell but then leave all sensory diction to provide commentary: “making us for one Sunday afternoon free/ and happy as people must have been meant to be.”
“Sunday at the Apple Market” begins with an overview and ends with a comment, but the main body of the poem is dependent on images. The middle section follows the goal and the technique of the American Imagist poets prominent early in the twentieth century. The emotional impact of the poem comes directly from the images. Meinke involves all five senses in describing his scene. Beginning with the “Apple-smell” of the first line, Meinke soon turns to visual images of the orchard market; in the middle of the poem, as the people are introduced, the images suggest sound, taste, and touch as well as sight and smell.
In addition to having images central to the poem, the Imagist poets often concentrate their focus using common, though precise, diction and free verse. All these characteristics help to define Meinke’s poem. One method of compression is Meinke’s creation of new compound words out of ordinary words: “Apple-smell,” “ciderpresses,” “applechunks,” and “appletrees.” The word apple or apples or the name of one of the fruit’s varieties occurs ten times in this seventeen-line poem, keeping the subject in tight focus. The scant use of capitalization and punctuation also suggest compression. Capitalization appears only in the introductory or concluding sections, and three commas are all that punctuate the body of the poem.
In this way, the images flow into one another, allowing the reader to visualize the scene as if it were spread on a canvas. The first three images suggest to the reader a still life; once the people are introduced “laughing” and tasting the apples, the still life transforms into a more vibrant scene. The snapshot images that constitute the body of the poem vary in length, but frequent repetition of participles and compounds or items in a series binds the views, making the already compressed picture seem even more tightly constructed. The “old ciderpresses weathering in the shed” parallel the “old ladders tilting at empty branches”; likewise, the “boxes and bins” of an early image lead later to the “bushels/ and baskets and bags and boxes” that appear in the last image of the body of the poem.
The last two lines of the poem depart from the method of the Imagists. The obvious rhyme contrasts with the body of the poem, which has only one exact end rhyme, working more with alliteration. Instead of speaking through an image, the conclusion provides direct commentary. The point of view in the poem becomes apparent when the speaker says the scent of the fruit makes them “free/ and happy.” The poem can then be seen as the speaker’s sense impressions of the visit and his philosophic comment that the visit is actually a brief respite from the normal pattern of life.