My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree Toward heaven still,
First of all, how long "after apple-picking" is this poem set? It's not a simple question, and you might want to re-read the whole poem a couple times before you try to answer it. Go ahead, we'll wait. (Dum-dee-dum-dum.) Ready?
The first couple lines seem to suggest that the speaker is still picking apples, which is strange when you consider that the title says "after."
At any rate, he has one of those old-fashioned ladders with the two points at the end that you have to lean against the tree. The top of the ladder points toward heaven, which is a strange detail for him to mention.
It immediately gives the poem religious overtones. You might think of "Jacob's Ladder," a Biblical story in which Jacob dreams of a ladder up to heaven that angels climb. God stands at the top of the ladder and tells Jacob that he and his descendents will be blessed.
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill Beside it, and there may be two or three Apples I didn't pick upon some bough. But I am done with apple-picking now.
There is a barrel next to him that hasn't been filled yet. Clearly the speaker has been filling barrels with apples all day, and now he feels this obligation to fill that last barrel. The barrel stands next to the ladder, which is propped against a tree. He paints a little picture of what apple-picking looks like.
In addition to the empty barrel, there are ripe apples still hanging from the tree. What are you doing, man? Chop, chop! Pick those apples! Fill that last barrel!
Nope, he thinks, not gonna pick 'em. Even though he knows he could go that extra mile and get every last apple, he has decided to stop picking for the day.
The speaker says, "I am done" with it, which means both "I'm going to stop" and "I'm getting sick of this."
Essence of winter sleep is on the night, The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
These lines are very important, as they might cause us to reevaluate where the poem is set. It is nighttime, and the speaker is very tired.
He compares his approaching sleep to an "essence" or smell that wafts through the winter night. Not surprisingly, this essence smells like apples.
At this point, we have two options. Either he falling asleep on his ladder in the orchard as night falls, or he is in bed, just thinking about being out in the orchard. Keep these two options in mind throughout the poem.