“After Apple-Picking” is the poem that describes the conflict between man’s aspirations, ambitions, desires on the one side and physical limitations, difficulties, ground realities on the other side. The man intends to do more work but physical limitations frustrate all his intention. There comes no point in life where we may say that work is over and we are free. Life ends but work never ends. So the apple deeply symbolizes man’s intention, ambitions, and aspirations. The task of apple-picking means undertaking some activity in life. Standing on the swaying ladder shows the difficulties that man has to undergo during work. He finds for himself any task too difficult.
If apples stand for ambition, sleep symbolizes death. So, to live earthly life is a difficult task as it is full of uncertainties. We are told this through an empty barrel. A man works throughout his life in order to achieve the heights of glory. But it remains unattainable as there is no end to man’s ambition. An apple-picker cannot pick all the apples from branches of the tree. IT is sometimes, due to his over exhaustion or due to his lack of determination whatever the cause; there is always an excuse to defend oneself. We, therefore, cannot get all intentions materialized from branches of life. At last, sleep comes means death comes and man’s all activities are stopped.
Role of Apple-Picker
The apple-picker has been picking apples with the help of a ladder stuck through the branches of the tree. There may be still some apples left with the boughs and the barrel lying beside the ladder is yet to be filled. But the apple-picker is physically tired. The winter night has approached and the smell of picked apples has intoxicated him. Hence he has already yielded to overpowering sleep.
The sleep is dominating his senses so much that all the objects are blurred and confused before his eyes. Everything appears to him dim and hazy as if he is looking at them through the glass of panes. He has experienced the hazy picture of objects by looking through a screen of ice, that he has skimmed water through in the morning.
The poet knows that during sleep he will experience cellar-stored apples. He will also listen to the rumbling sound of apples, while due to sleep and they appear mere shadows of things.
During his dream, he feels that he arched parts of his own hands and put them in a safe place. Because those apples that directly fall to the ground are put in a separate heap of apples that will be used for manufacturing beverages. It was he himself who had desired and prayed for a bumper crop. Now he is knackered owing to too much work.
The sleep has enabled him to take rest. But he is unable to determine whether his sleep is ordinary day-to-day human sleep or it is a long seasonal sleep of a woodchuck. He means that he cannot decide clearly whether the pause of rest is a temporary and routine matter or it would be a long seasonal rest till the return of next harvest time.
Explanation with Reference
My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there’s barrel that I didn’t fill
Besides it, and there maybe two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now
In the given lines from the poem “After Apple-Picking”, the poet throws light on his never-ending job of apple-picking. He has been busy at bamboo-ladder still sticking through a tree. The tree is tall that it looks raising sky-high. There is a barrel beside him, which he has not filled because of overwork. It shows that work never comes to an end. Furthermore, there are two or three apples, which he did not pick up on some bough. It reveals that major work is done, little is left but now the picker is fed up with the drudgery of apple-picking. He is in drowsiness and wants to have some sleep.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples I am drowsing off.
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
In the given lines, the poet is in a state of drowsiness. The darkness of winter night is growing fast over the atmosphere. The fragrance of picked apples is spreading in the air. He is intoxicated by such air and cannot remove the strangeness of the onslaught of sleep from his eyes. So, he feels tired and exhausted. He got strangeness from a sglass9y sheet of ice that he skimmed from drinking through. He held an icy sheet to took through its glass the world of hoary flakes grass. As sunshine increased, the ice melted and the poet let it fall. He was too tired, exhausted and sleepy.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I would tell
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.
The given lines depict the poet’s drowsiness of wintry sleep. He neither is fully asleep nor fully awakened. He hangs between two worlds the world of reality and the world of dream. That is the reason; he cannot disconnect himself from his job of apple-picking. He is so much associated with his task that his dreams are not free of it. The idea is that man takes stocks of his achievements at the end or at death. The work done makes him dissatisfied and work to be done makes him restless. The picked apples have little satisfaction for the poet. The remaining task of apple-picking seems to be greater. So he sees in drowsiness, magnified apples quite clearly. It shows that man has never-ending tasks on earth. His life is over but work is never-ever over.
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
In the given lines, the poet talks about the human situation. That he has done too much of apple-picking. Now he is dead tired of the job he himself desired. IT is natural that whatever task man undertakes, gest disillusioned after a period of time. This is human conflict and contradiction. Physically man is exhausted, mentally fed up and nervously over-exhausted. There comes no state where a man may claim no work. The achieved task appears insignificant and the works to be done is more and more.
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
In the given lines, the poet juxtaposes his sleep with the sleep of a woodchuck. Although, he is sure that the thought of destroying apples by throwing may disturb his sleep now he wonders about the nature of his sleep. He does not know the actual nature of his sleep. If the woodchuck is here, he will surely compare the poet’s sleep to his own long sleep in winter. But he is already gone and must be hibernating in his burrow. So the poet thinks that his own drowsiness is very close to the hibernation of animals. Still, the poet suggests that his might be common sleep or might be death.
The signification of “Empty Barrel”
The empty barrel signifies the unfinished work of the apple-picker. In this process of worldly tasks, a person leaves his task incomplete. One may get tired or disheartened due to reasons unknown. Most of the poets lack determination; they leave their work incomplete due to one or the other excuse. Their barrel remain often unfilled. The same is the case with the apple-picker. He is exhausted due to his long work of apple-picking. He has desired and prayed for a bumper crop. When his desire has been fulfilled, he is inventing excuses in favor our sleep.
The empty barrel also signifies our empty bag of good deeds after death and our unfinished schemes in this world. In the world, we are engaged in various pursuits, but when we leave the world at the approach of death (sleep) our tasks remain unfinished. We might have filled many barrels but there always remains a barrel to be filled at the time of our departure from this world.