After Apple Picking

Robert Frost’s poem, “After Apple-Picking,” has been interpreted in many different ways.

The literal interpretation of the poem tells us the story of a man wanting some rest after a hard day’s work of picking apples, yet he knows his sleep will be troubled because he has not finished all his work. On a figurative level, Frost uses this poem to discuss life and death, or eternal sleep. On both a literal and figurative level, sleep is the primary focus because with sleep comes the escape from hard labor, and whether it be an actual sleep or death, Frost’s main preoccupation is on the transition from being awake and present in the real world and dealing with all of life’s problems, to being asleep and part of a less tangible and realistic dream-like world where those problems may or may not exist. In his poem, “After Apple-Picking,” Frost uses an extended metaphor of apple-picking and imagery of a long sleep to illustrate the hardships of life and the longing that one feels to escape those troubles by entering a dream-like world in which they believe those troubles are nonexistent and irrelevant. The extended metaphor of apple-picking is used throughout the poem to represent life and death. In the poem, the speaker has finished working and is reminiscing on the work that he has done thus far: “…there may be two or three/Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough/But I am done with apple picking for now” (Frost).

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The unpicked apples represent the things in the speaker’s life that he has not accomplished, and the “…barrel that I didn’t fill” echoes that lack of completion (Frost). Literary critic Leah Tieger agrees, saying, “…the few apples remaining on the branch, the unfilled barrel- all are signs of a task half-complete” (Tieger 9). Despite a job incomplete, the speaker has “…had too much/Of apple-picking” and is now “…overtired/Of the great harvest I myself desired” (Frost). The apples that the speaker has picked already, or all the things he has completed in his life, along with the remaining apples, or the things he still has to do, have worn him out and exhausted him, so much so that all he can think about is ending that exhaustion and being “…done with apple-picking now” (Frost). While the speaker contends that apple picking is what he “desired,” it is evident that the he now wants to stop his work, or in other words, stop living because “the plentiful harvest he wished for has exhausted him,” which suggests that death is the only solace from the struggles of life (Tieger 9).

Frost is using the metaphor of picking apples to show how the things we must accomplish and deal with in life, while desired and welcomed, are tiresome and make us almost wish for death after a long time of dealing with them. Also in his poem, “After Apple-Picking,” Frost uses imagery relating sleep and dreaming to further show how people view death and sleep as a way to escape the troubles of life. Throughout the poem, the word sleep is seen six times and is alluded to throughout a majority of the lines: “the essence of winter sleep,” “this sleep of mine,” “just some human sleep” (Frost). Tieger has no answer on whether this sleep is literally meant as an “ordinary slumber” or whether it is a more “lengthy slumber,” but contends that interpretation of the sleep being an eternal sleep “emphasizes the interpretation of the poem as a meditation on mortality” (Tieger 10). The connotations that come with “winter” further support the idea that the sleep Frost is discussing is a more permanent kind of sleep, or death.

Upon entering this sleep or this dream-like world however, the speaker only sees images of “magnified apples” that “appear and reappear” (Frost). In other words, all the preoccupations we have while awake or alive are not necessarily gone when we enter this less realistic dream world. The imagery relating to the sleeping and dreaming of the speaker illustrates Frost’s idea that with sleep or death comes the desire and longing to be free of the troubles of life. While Frost never comes straight out and tells us he is discussing life and death or not, it is evident that his poem “After Apple-Picking,” is in fact doing just that. In it we see a man exhausted and longing for sleep after a long, grueling day of picking apples, but on a deeper level we see a man exhausted by the preoccupation with all the things he had to accomplish and all the hardships he has faced throughout his life and longing for a relief from that exhaustion.

Through his extended metaphor relating apple-picking to life and death and his sleep and dream related imagery, the reader is able to see that Frost believes the escape from this fatigue lies in the escape from reality to a dream-like state because only in this dream-like state are we able to forget about our problems.