Study Guide

After Apple-Picking Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay

By Robert Frost

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Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay

Welcome to the land of symbols, imagery, and wordplay. Before you travel any further, please know that there may be some thorny academic terminology ahead. Never fear, Shmoop is here. Check out our "How to Read a Poem" section for a glossary of terms.

Biblical Imagery

The Bible is never explicitly mentioned in this poem, but Frost nonetheless includes several references to well-known stories from the Book of Genesis. These are not specific allusions so much as commonplace ideas that help structure the poem. The story of Jacob's Ladder and the Fall of Adam and Eve both seem to be on the speaker's mind. But be careful about interpreting what these references might "mean." There is surely no one right answer about their role in the poem.

  • Lines 1-2: The image of a ladder pointing toward heaven alludes to the story of Jacob's Ladder in the Book of Genesis. When Jacob was escaping from his jealous brother Esau, he dreamed of a ladder going up to heaven that had angels climbing it. God was at the top of the ladder, and He told Jacob that Jacob and his descendants would be blessed.
  • Line 13: The speaker is thinking about items falling because he has been trying not to drop apples all day. But the combination of falling and fruit seems to allude to the Biblical Fall, in which Adam and Eve tasted the forbidden fruit and were therefore expelled from the Garden of Eden.
  • Lines 21-22: At this point, we know that he is beginning to dream, which makes the connection to the story of Jacob's Ladder even more clear.
  • Lines 31-36: The apples that fell and hit the earth are symbols of sin and earthly corruption. They are treated "as of no worth," similar to how Adam and Eve were treated after they metaphorically "fell to earth" by tasting the forbidden fruit. It is important to note that Frost has sympathy for these corrupted apples, as if they represented all of humanity.

Sleep and Dreams

Is the speaker already asleep at the beginning of the poem? How does he know what he's going to dream if he hasn't started dreaming yet? What time is it? Dreams are fuzzy creatures, and the poem captures the vague and disorderly progress of the speaker's thoughts from one subject to another. Images of falling and dropping things are especially notable. The most direct explanation for these images is that the speaker has been worried about not dropping apples all day.

  • Line 9: The speaker's strange view of the world, even since that morning, is compared metaphorically to sleep or to some other physical object that is caught in his eye. But he cannot "rub" out the strangeness in the way that you can rub out sleep in the morning.
  • Line 10: The sheet of ice that froze over the water is described metaphorically as a "pane of glass," because the speaker can look through it. Also, a "glass" is an old-fashioned word for "mirror."
  • Line 15: The speaker confuses the time of the memory with the real time of his falling asleep. At the point in the memory at which the ice falls, he was already starting to drift to sleep.
  • Line 37: The word "trouble" is very ambiguous here. It has connotations of bad and disturbing dreams, even though we don't know what's so scary about some falling apples.
  • Lines 40-41: Frost personifies the woodchuck as if it were a person who could read the poem and say, "Yup, sounds like you're headed for hibernation, my friend!" or, "Nope, you're still just a human being. Sorry!"

The Harvest

The poem takes place at the end of the harvest, with the last fruit hanging on the tree and winter coming on. The harvest symbolizes growth and creativity, but this burst of life has ended and now both the earth and its many of its creatures are preparing to enter a period of hibernation.

  • Lines 18-20: The dream presents the apples in fine detail. Even the small flecks of brownish-red are visible on the surface. He has been watching apples "appear and disappear" all day.
  • Line 30: "Ten thousand thousand" apples would be ten million! We doubt he actually counted all the apples picked. Instead, he is exaggerating. The technical term for this device is hyperbole.
  • Line 36: He uses a subtle simile to describe how the fallen apples are treated. They are not really worthless, because the apple cider still has some value. But the speaker's point is that, compared to the non-corrupted apples, they might as well be worthless.

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