Robert Frost: “After Apple-Picking”

See image credit below.

See image credit below.

Every fall, my family would make its annual pilgrimage to Eckert’s Farm in Grafton, Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from the St. Louis metro area. We’d drive over the river to Alton, Illinois, then take the Great River Road north to Grafton and the farm, where we’d pick apples to our heart’s content. At most, this usually meant a bag or two for each of us – just enough to enjoy the crisp, sweet, juicy fruit. After apple picking, we’d pile back in the car and return to Missouri via the Golden Eagle Ferry. Oh, how we loved crossing the river on the ferry! I can still smell that river air, can still call to mind the feel of the brisk October breeze on my face.

In his 1914 poem “After Apple-Picking,” Robert Frost features a farmer (perhaps himself) whose harvest of apples upon apples is far greater than the small u-pick harvest my family would gather. Frost’s farmer is overwhelmed by the sheer number of apples he must pick. As he falls into an unsettled sleep later that night, he dreams endlessly about apples:

Magnified apples appear and disappear,
stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
. . . I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.

Indeed, so strong is his body memory that he not only dreams all night of continuing to pick apples but his “instep arch . . . keeps the ache, / It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.”

I love this poem. As is so often the case with Frost’s poetry, it seems on the surface to be such a simple story – the farmer so “overtired” that he dreams of bringing in the harvest all night long. But when you dig deeper, there is so much more there. Near the opening of the poem, the farmer says:

I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.

Through this skim of ice, the farmer’s familiar world is distorted, made strange. As the farmer reflects on his day of picking apples and his unsettled night of picking still more apples in his sleep, the poem moves quickly and seamlessly from the daily, physical task at hand to larger questions of mortality. The farmer says: “I have had too much / Of apple-picking: I am overtired / Of the great harvest I myself desired.” What is enough? What is too much?

This wonderful poem, so appropriate for this time of year, was first published in Frost’s 1914 book, North of Boston. This second collection of Frost’s poetry put him on the literary map and established his reputation as a major poet. The definitive collection of Frost’s poetry is The Poetry of Robert Frost.

To learn more about Frost, take a virtual tour of places associated with his life. (Ten years ago, I spent a lovely day at Frost’s cabin in Ripton, Vermont, with my friends Kevin and TC Williams.) A good introduction to Frost’s work and philosophy can be found at the Poetry Foundation. If you really want to delve into everything Frost, read Jay Parini’s outstanding biography, Robert Frost: A Life – and check out the Robert Frost postage stamp (along with other U.S. stamps dedicated to American poets!).

As you approach the dark nights of October and November yourself, you may find it comforting to cozy up with a tasty cocktail. My friends Kathy Shambaugh and Deidre Morrison invented this cocktail, and my husband and I named it in honor of Frost. To make your own “After Apple-Picking” cocktail, mix 4 ounces of ice-cold apple cider with 1 ounce of caramel vodka and ½ ounce of vanilla vodka. Shake in a cold martini shaker filled with ice. Serve “neat” (no ice!). Yum!

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Listen:Listen as I read “After Apple-Picking.” And for a real treat, listen to Frost read the poem! Follow along with the text of the poem here.

Image Credit: 1941 photograph of Robert Frost by Fred Palumbo, public domain,