After Apple-Picking Robert Frost Poem

After Apple-Picking 

About the Poet 

Robert Lee Frost (March 26, 1874- January 29, 1963) was an American poet who won the Pulitzer Prize four times and received more than 40 honorary degrees during his lifetime. He had painted the realistic life of New England through simple diction and simple situations of the common man.

Robert Frost was the Inaugural Poet for President Kennedy in 1961. He got a poet laureate award from the United States in the mid 20th century. A couple of years before the First World War(1914-1918), in 1912, Frost met Ezra Pound and Edward Thomas, two men who would affect his life in significant ways.

He enjoyed a fairly wide reputation in the field of both poetry and prose both on the national and international levels. His life was marked by many trials and ordeals which he faced with a stout heart.

Robert Frost led a very sad and turbulent life. Two of his children died during his lifetime. He even received political awards from the U.S Congress during the last years of his eventful life. He did on January 29 1963 due to complications in his prostate surgery.

Summary | Main Idea| After Apple Picking

After Apple-Picking is an expression of Frost's pleasant work experience followed by tiredness, sleep, and dreams. The half-dream soon ended and the poet started expressing surprise at it. But he could not decide what his sleep was like.

The poet was vacillating between certainty when he was awake and uncertainty when he was half-sleep. He tried to understand the sudden and mysterious changes in his physical and mental condition. Finally, he placed himself between a small animal( the woodchuck, like a squirrel) and a man.

The poet created a superb dreamy atmosphere. The sweet scent of apples filled the air making the poet feel drowsy(half-asleep). We could ourselves feel the scent and share the poet's drowsiness by reading these lines feelingly.

The dimness of light, coldness, and hardness of things give us a feeling of discomfort. The image of the sheet(pane) of glass or frozen water through which the poet looked at the surroundings lets us see them with the poet. 

Though the atmosphere was dull, the uneasy shine of the ice around could still be felt. The surroundings looked strange and blurred. The poet had had a similar experience at night when, after apple-picking, he observed the scene in his sleepy condition.

Things looked strange and the apples were overgrown in size. The small sheet of ice in the poet's hand melted, and he let it fall down and break. How natural is the description of the ice melting and falling down? Now, in his sleepy condition, the poet began to think of the dream he was going to have.

And I could tell
What form my dream was about to take
The poet wanted to enjoy a deep sleep undisturbed. He desired natural long sleep like that of a woodchuck. He even understood that the sleep of death would bring him permanent rest and relief. He himself could not decide which sleep he really expected. And no one can finally decide this.

Literally, the poem, After Apple-Picking gives a glimpse of a farmer's life. He is picking apples in the harvest season. It is nearing the end of the farmer's day, and even though the harvesting for the day has not finished, he decides that his job has finished already.

The farmer then starts dozing off and starts dreaming about life. He dreams about his work, of many apples being picked during the harvest. He goes on to dream about hearing a load of apples from the cellar bin. He feels the pain and fatigue after a great harvest.

The farmer then dreams of the sight of apples falling onto the ground which would be of no value and sent to the cider apple heap. The metaphorical meaning of this poem is firstly suggested by the title, After Apple Picking. 

As you can see, the title starts with the word after which implies that something will happen after this apple-picking. The first and second life indicates that the poem may be about life after death, in heaven. 

My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree towards heaven still During the dream, I believe that the apples may actually be a metaphor for opportunities in life. Many opportunities arise but disappear if we have not taken them seriously.

Magnified apples appear and disappear life is just like a great apple harvest, as you have to do much of the same routine every day. There are many things which we can do with our life. The use of apples in the poem also relates to the poem of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Although this is a rhyming poem yet follows no preordained rhyme scheme. After Apple-Picking is iambic in style and presented in pentameter, but line-length variants abound. Line 1, for example, is long by any standard. Line 32 is very short: one foot. 

The poem arrives at final sleep, not through a wham-band rhyming couplet but more sleepily. Eternal sleep is certainly one interpretation and an instance of the long sleep that presents a contrast with human sleep. 

Woodchuck sleeps in winter and winter is in the metaphoric language of seasons has strong associations with death. The tenses and sequence used in the poem are a bit confusing and lead to wonder. Understandably, the speaker is tired at the end of apple picking.

Explanation and Reference to Context

Lines 1-6

My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Towards heaven still
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there maybe two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.

Reference and Context

These lines have been taken from the poem After Apple Picking written by Robert Frost. The poem tells us about a farmer who is picking apples in his garden. The farmer is dead tired with apple picking and now thinks of rest and sleep.

He hopes to have a long winter sleep that will be full of dreams about apples. Symbolically, the poem tells us that after hard work through life, a man desires to take rest. So the poem is about man's awareness of death and also a life of eternity.


In these lines, the poet gives us a glimpse of the life of a farmer. The poet is picking apples from a tree. His two-pointed ladder is sticking against a tree. It is so tall that it looks to be still rising towards heaven.

Just beside it, there is a barrel that he has not yet filled on account of his physical fatigue. There may be a few more apples on the branches yet to be picked. He is now terribly fed up with the drudgery of apple picking. Now he wants to take a rest.

The ladder pointing to the sky is a symbol for man's or the poet's high aims and desires which are sky-high. The empty barrel symbolizes man's or the poet's inability to get all that he wants.

One can not attain all that one desires in one's limited time with one's bodily limitations. The words used are short and long but simple. They describe the garden situation pictorially.

Lines 7-11

The essence of winter sleep is on the night, 
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I can not rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough

Reference and Context

Same as for the lines 1-6


In these lines, the poet says that the farmer is feeling tired and sleepy. The darkness of the winter night is growing fast over the atmosphere. The atmosphere has also become heavy and misty with the strange intoxicating smell of apples. 

He is now drowsing off and can not see things clearly. He can not remove the strangeness of such drowsiness from his eyes. He gets this strangeness from looking through a glassy sheet of ice that he has removed from the top of the frozen water of the drinking trough.

The darkness of the night adds to the poet's desire to sleep in all his tiredness of apple-picking. Frost describes his morning experience of viewing the morning scene through a sheet of ice. 

Lines 12- 16

And held against the world of hoary grass
It melted and I let it fall and break
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell
And I could tell

Reference and Context

Same as for lines 1-6


In these lines, the apple-picker is holding an icy sheet to enjoy through its glass the world of grass covers with the hoary flakes of snow. As it is morning time and as sunshine is increasing, so the ice melts. He has no other choice except to let it fall and break.

The reason is that he is too tired to hold it any longer. To prove the dominating effect of early drowsiness of wintery sleep, this apple-picker can not remove the strangeness of the overpowering sleepiness from his eyes.

He gets this strangeness from looking through a pane of glass which he has already skimmed from the frozen water of the drinking trough. He holds this pane of glass in his hands against the hoary-looking snow-covered.

The sun rises and the heat of sunlight melts this pane of glass. He let it fall and break but before it can fall on the hoary grass, he is already on his way to sleep. The glass is a human perspective, a flawed perception. Since we agree that sleep and dreaming are death, then it's logical that morning is birth.

He acquires the glimmer, the glare in his eyes at morning and so he develops a perspective early in life. He can not shake off the glimmer. He can not rid himself of the human perspective. Not until he is dying, on his way to sleep does the glass melt and fall away.

Lines 17-26

What form my dreaming was about to take
Magnified apples appear and disappear
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear
My instep arch not only keeps the arch
It keeps the pressure of ladder-round
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on a load of apples coming in.

Reference and Context

Same as for lines 1-6


In these lines, the poet describes the dream of an apple picker that he is likely to see during his sleep. He is tired after work of a long day of apple picking. He can easily tell what form his dreaming is about to take. 

Even in his dream, he can see nothing but the ending tips of the stems and the blossoms of the apples of big size. He can also see how the instep sole of his foot keeps the pressure of the ladder in balance.

Simultaneously he keeps on hearing the audible noise of the rumbling sound coming from the cellar bin. He imagines these things because he has remained completely occupied with apple picking.

The poet dreams as if in his half-sleep, standing on the ladder, takes him close to the underground store and he hears the deep noisy sound of the apples. The poet talks about loads of apples reaching the store but not how they are arriving.

Lines 27-31

For I have had too much 
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest, I myself desired
There were ten thousand fruit to touch
Cherish in hand, lift down and not let fall

Reference and Context

Same as for lines 1-6


In these lines, the poet describes the overtired condition of the apple-picker. He is overjoyed to have this great crop of apples. He has done too much of apple-picking. He is now terribly overtired.

He himself wishes to reap a large harvest of apples but is now disgusted with his drudgery. He has already picked thousands of apples. There are still thousands of fruit to pick and bring down carefully by hand and may not fall down.

The crop of apples was very successful as the poet had desired. He very happily started plucking them. He held them lovingly in his hands. He carried them carefully to the ground. He did not let them fall. He tried to have them stored in good condition.

Lines 32-36

For all
That struck the earth
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth

Reference and Context

Same as for the lines 1-6


These lines throw light on the hard labor of the apple picker. He knows very well that he should not let any apple fall on the ground. This is because all those apples that fall down and are bruised with stubbles are considered fit for storage.

They are then taken to cider-press. These fruits are only e used for extracting juice. These apples, deformed thus, will truly be of no further use and they will only be crushed for juice in the press(or machine for ready use).

The poet has delineated, in a direct, simple, and familiar way, how apples are taken down from trees carefully and what use is made of those hitting the ground and getting damaged and destroyed.

Lines 37-42

One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine whatever sleep it is
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it's like his 
Long sleep, as I describe it's coming on
Or just some human sleep.

Reference and Context

Same as for lines 1-6


In these lines, Robert Frost describes the dream-like condition of apple picker. The apple picker can easily imagine what kind of dreams he will see in his long sleep. He does not understand the real nature of sleep.

He does not know what is troubling his sleep and what kind of sleep it is for him. It is his misfortune that the squirrel-type woodchuck has disappeared from his scene of apple picking.

This woodchuck could tell him accurately whether his sleep is a short human sleep or a long animal sleep like that of a woodchuck. We know that woodchuck burrows deep into the earth and sleeps the winter away. The poet may also be hibernating. 

He may rise again. It may be death. It is equally possible that he may just be sleeping for the night, to get refreshed. Most of the critics point out that the poet is forecasting his death in these lines. This kind of sleep is sepulchral, long-lasting, and underground and thus is the metaphor for death. 

Just some human sleep is how death is portrayed literally in this poem. So that the last strangely worded line simply suggested the correctness of the human sleep in the poem and death as represented by the hibernation of a marmot.

Important  Questions and Their Answers

Question 1

Discuss After Apple-Picking by Robert Frost as a symbolic poem.

What does the empty barrel signify in After Apple Picking?


The empty barrel has its significance. Firstly, it is a symbol of hope that the poet attaches to the future. It is as though he would be able to get some better or ripened more than others with fresher or stranger scents. With these, he would fill the barrel.

The empty barrel is, secondly, a symbol of the poet's saving to be used in the future. The apples for this barrel must keep hanging by the tree branches in their freshness and prime until they are pulled down. So the poet appears to have left them on the tree by will. They are his savings for use in the future. 

Thirdly, the empty barrel is a symbol of man's tiredness or unfinished tasks. Like the poet, we get tired or are not in a mood to continue doing something. Then we rest or sleep or entertain ourselves.

The empty barrel symbolizes the unaccomplished work that refers to a heap of incomplete and unfulfilled desires. Although the apple-picker has been trying his utmost to fill his barrel with the apples yet it is still empty because the apple-picker is so tired. He is drowsing off.

Now the poet is on the last step of the ladder who enjoyed himself a high place in the world yet he could not do enough good deeds. Death encroached the barrel of his half-filled deeds. Sleep itself symbolizes death reaches the poet when his activities were still unfulfilled and he needs some more years. 

Although the poet fills half of the barrel yet he demands generous reward in the world hereafter for a few noble deeds he did in his life in the form of ten thousand apples of great size and magnitude. In short, the empty barrel signifies the unfulfilled desires of human beings.

Question 2

What kind of sleep does Robert Frost sleep?

Discuss the sleep theme of After Apple-Picking by Frost

Why does Frost's unusual sleep does not satisfy him?


When the poet was performing his work of picking apples, His fatigue made him feel extreme drowsiness. His fatigue and the scent of the apples mingle and overpower the mind. In drowsiness, he begins to see dreams and he gets the vision of magnified apples.

Actually, the apple-picker has got tired of seeing the routine of loading and unloading of his apples. He acknowledges that he himself has longed for such a heavy harvest. Despite his utmost care, the apple-picker can not throw the apples undamaged in his barrel.

Some of them fall down from the barrel and are pricked and bruised by stubbles. The dream is as much clear and vivid that it becomes difficult for the apple-picker to make difference between reality and dream. 

When he wakes up, he gets astonished and asks himself what kind of sleep it is. He is too confused to know whether it is a woodchuck's long sleep of hibernation or short human sleep of one night only. He does not suggest the answer and leaves it to the reader to draw a conclusion.

Medicines and palliatives can not bring the poet any lasting comfort in sleep. Even dreams are colored by our previous social experiences. We are, thus, barred from enjoying pure sleepy and dreamy pleasures. 

Therefore, in his thoughts, he feels like sleeping like a woodchuck. The poet, in fact, wants to develop a similarity between the woodchuck's sleep and his. He does not find much similarity or sameness at present. But he hopes to bring it about somehow.

To sleep and to forget everything, to land in the 
world of animals and birds

Question 3

After Apple-Picking traces the journey from conscious to subconscious. Discuss.

In Frost's poem After Apple-Picking, the world of reality and dream are strangely intermingled.


Robert Frost, in this poem, gives a combination of the world of reality and dreams. In reality, he is picking normal apples while in a dream, he sees apples of great size and magnitude. In sleep, he is roaming between two poles of reality and dreams.

The poet compares humans to sleep with the long sleep of woodchuck. When human beings get tired by overwork, they take a rest. Sleep is the best way to rest and relax. They sleep for a few hours and all fatigue and heaviness disappears.

They get up fresh and active and willing to work again. Human beings can not sleep longer than a day or so. There are animals like woodchucks who hibernate through the months of winter. They get up when the season changes and the earth gets warm. 

The poet in fact describes the close relationship between dream and reality, life, and death. The desires which often remain unfulfilled in the world of reality are enjoyed in the world of dream. The dreamer enjoys himself with the same tastes, color, smell, and pleasure of touch.

In reality, the poet observes that he has a limited capacity for his physical labor, but he experiences the unlimited capacity of his imagination in a dream. The poet himself becomes as confused as it is difficult for him to suggest whether the world we consider reality is the real world or a mere optical illusion.

The poet is overtired after the long and hard job of picking apples and is feeling sleepy. He feels that he might sleep for a long time like woodchuck's winter sleep. But if he wakes up after a short sleep like human beings usually do, it will be just an ordinary human sleep. He wonders what kind of sleep he is going to have.

Question 4

Explain the title of the poem After Apple-Picking in your own words.

Elaborate some of the symbols employed by Robert Frost in his After Apple 

After Apple-Picking is a highly symbolic poem.

Discuss the symbolic meaning of the poem.


The poem After Apple-Picking is a masterpiece of Frost. In this poem, the poet tells us about his own experience of apple-picking. On the surface level, it deals with the harvest of a farmer who is picking apples.

He has got tired and wants to take a rest. The farmer, the ladder, the tree, the barrels, and the apples all have been used by the poet as symbols. In literature, symbolism means the use of something, person, or idea which represents some other idea.

Symbolism increases the meanings of a literary work and gives depth to it. The farmer is a symbol of a common human being who is busy with his work. He has countless desires that he wants to fulfill at any cost. The empty barrels are a symbol of the unfulfilled desires of human beings in their lives.

There are also accomplish tasks of human beings. And there's a barrel that I didn't fill. The apples are a symbol of deeds or actions. They may be good or bad. According to a religious point of view, all human beings have an open opportunity to do good or bad.

Everyone in this world is collecting apples. The sleep of the farmer is a symbol of common human sleep as well as death. The tree is a symbol of this world. It provides us different opportunities for earning. 

The people of the world are doing different jobs and are collecting money or doing deeds. The ladder is a symbol of technique or profession or a way that we adopt to earn our livelihood or do our deeds. In the end, we can say that man continues to pursue his dreams and desires.

This pursuit for the achievement of his aims is compared with apple-picking. This struggle continues throughout our lives and ends only at the arrival of death as our daily labor ends in deep sleep.

Question 5

Describe the poet's pleasant experience of apple picking.


The poet, Robert Frost has done too much of his routine work and he is now terribly exhausted. He is hopeful about reaping a rich harvest of apples but he has not picked sufficient apples as he desired. 

He can only fill half of the container and after the activity has been completed and he becomes disgusted with his drudgery. But still, there are some apples to be plucked from the branches. So the barrel is also unfilled.

He has worked constantly and carefully and tried his best to finish his job completely. But he is too tired and sleepy to do any more work. Later on, his exhaustion takes him into the world of dreams in which he experiences a very vivid vision.

In drowsiness, he cannot discriminate between dream and reality. He sees numerous apples even more than ten thousand. The poet is so confused that he can not decide which world is real and which one is the world of dreams.

The poet can not know the actual nature of his sleep whether his sleep is the long sleep of the woodchuck or one night long human sleep. His experience of sleep is powerful and lucid. He can not resist the influence of sleep. His experience is pleasant based on reality.


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