"After Apple-Picking" is one of those early poems by Robert Frost that makes people think of him as a quaint, New England poet. Along with "The Road Not Taken" and others, this poem reminds people of simple American country life, with kids on a tire swing and mom bringing out the lemonade. But this image of Frost drives many poetry scholars crazy, because they know that the man was so much more than that. Even his peaceful New England poems – and this is definitely one of them – contain a depth and mystery that few American writers have been able to capture. "After Apple-Picking" makes a quintessential autumn activity seem like a solemn and spiritual ritual, full of strange and disturbing implications.
"After Apple-Picking" was published in Frost's second collection, North of Boston, in 1915. His first collection was titled A Boy's Will, and it contained many short lyric poems about nature and country life. North of Boston, on the other hand, contains several longer poems, and Frost also began to explore human dramas and conflicts. It is one of his best-known works, with such classics as "Mending Wall," "Home Burial," and "Death of the Hired Man." The collection gave him his first taste of fame. However, by this point Frost was still considered by many people to be a very talented "regional" poet. In later years, he would become one of America's most recognizable writers, and one of the few poets to grace the cover of Time magazine. He even delivered a poem at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy.
Frost's poems are considered hard to place within the main literary traditions of the twentieth century. He wrote in iambic pentameter, sometimes in rhyme and sometimes not, at a time when many poets were experimenting with looser forms. He didn't try to write in complicated forms like the villanelle or the pantoum. And yet the simplicity and directness of Frost's poems also stand in contrast to the dominant movements in English poetry of the nineteenth century – Romanticism and Victorianism – and to the two great American poets of that century – Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. "After Apple-Picking" is an excellent introduction to Frost's unique combination of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and to some of his juiciest (and we're not talking about apple juice, either), most mature work that cannot be clearly encompassed by either era.
People often have their most interesting thoughts just before they go to sleep. Don't you ever wish you put those thoughts into words? This poem demonstrates just how much you can understand about a person from the vague, drifting thoughts that occur just before passing into the land of Nod. It should make you want to leap out of bed and add to your journal right at the point when you think, "Sleepy-time!" The entire poem takes place in those fleeting moments between wakefulness and sleep, when the speaker reviews the events of the day and finds meanings that he had not considered before.
As psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud recognized, your dreams and fantasies can provide deep insights into your hopes and worries. Or, on a more straightforward level, your bedtime thoughts can clarify what happened during the day. But few people actually take the time to collect their thoughts at the end of a long, hard day. Most of us just want to pass out and dream about winning the Super Bowl ("Hey, Peyton Manning, we're open in the end zone!").
The speaker of "After Apple-Picking" keeps close track of the progress of his thoughts before sleep. It's fascinating how he can recognize that he's falling asleep without that consciousness impacting the process of falling asleep. Speaking of falling, the speaker discovers just how much his own everyday experience is structured by stories written thousands of years ago, in Biblical times. Thoughts about falling ice and falling apples lead to suggestions of lost innocence and worldly corruption. But these implications never come to the surface of the poem: they hover just beneath.
In the same way, you probably have fears, desires, and concerns that influence you in subtle ways, ways that you might not even recognize. Paying closer attention to the patterns in your drowsy fantasies can lead to sudden "Eureka!" moments like, "Wow, I really was bothered by that thing she said to me after calculus class: even though I didn't think anything of it at the time, all my thoughts now seem connected by that event." Self-knowledge is always a good thing, and great poets like Robert Frost can help illuminate the hidden meanings beneath your most random, run-of-the-mill thoughts.