How cool – got another paper back. This one from my American literature class. This was a poetry analysis, and my instructor’s comment at the end was: “Good job, as always!” My ego is getting stoked today.
A Yankee Perspective in “After Apple-Picking”
Robert Frost’s experiences living in the crisp climate of rural New Hampshire were a great source of inspiration for his poetry, and the stereotypical terseness of the New England Yankee comes through in his writing style. He walks the reader through a country scene, making the reader feel like he or she is vicariously experiencing life as depicted in a lithographic print by Currier & Ives, who were famous for evoking nostalgic feelings of uncomplicated days-gone-by so popular in this country for the past century and a half. Frost’s ability to portray a picture with his words was “often celebrated for his unsentimental depictions of rural life and ordinary people” (Belasco 583).
“After Apple-Picking” begins with the poet reviewing his day of harvesting, having left his ladder up and barrels yet to be filled (Frost 1-3). The poet recalls seeing several apples he has not reached yet (4-5), but his weariness at the end of the workday and onset of the cold nightfall (6-7) combine with the memory of the fragrance of the apples to leave him ready to fall asleep (8). For those not blessed to have been born New England Yankees themselves, they might not appreciate the reference to the unrelenting immediacy of the short-lived harvest time indicated by the frozen layer of water he found in the morning, as apple flesh needs a good frost in order to convert into sugars and be ready for harvest, but cannot stay on the branch indefinitely lest they begin to rot and fall off the tree, leaving such fruit good only for fermenting and pressing into cider (31-36).
With sleep coming fast upon him, the dreamlike state the poet finds himself in as he recalls the sheet of ice from that morning as well as envisioning apples dancing before his sleepy eyes leads him to believe he will be dreaming about the apples at night (9-20). Even drifting off to sleep, he cannot stop thinking about the harvest and all the work that is left to finish, still feeling the soreness of the arch of his feet from standing on the ladder (21-22) and imagines he still feels the sensation of being on the ladder as it moves with the tree boughs (23). His Yankee sense of humor comes through in the ironic observation that he is “overtired / Of the great harvest I myself desired” (28-29).
To the consumer of the fresh apples in the market and urban storefronts, the apples seem to miraculously appear all shiny on the shelf for them to purchase. Frost, in the voice of the harvester, expounds on the great care to be taken in hand-selecting each apple individually, carefully letting it down and placing it in the barrels to avoid bruises, scrapes and scratches (30-36). With a plentiful harvest (30), this kind of work is labor-intensive, and the reference to the soreness of his feet from climbing up and down the ladder begins to make more sense to the reader (21-22; 37-38). Alluding wistfully to the hibernating woodchuck, the poet finally drifts off wondering if he will sleep as soundly as the woodland creature which winter’s approach has already sent under cover (39-42), or if his mere human sleep cycle will surely wake him again to continue the arduous work of harvesting the “ten thousand thousand fruit to touch” (30).
The rhyming patterns in “After Apple-Picking” include couplets in the simple form of AA (5-6; 31-32), “split” couplets or tercets in the form of ABA (7-9, 10-12, 24-26), and quatrains such as ABBA (1-4, 27-30). There is also the triplet pattern of BBB (14-16) falling in the middle of a more elaborate “split” tercet pattern of A BBB A CDC A (13-21), but the most elaborate rhyming pattern falls at the end of the poem which runs ABC AB DEDE C (33-42).
In keeping with the uncomplicated conversational style of the northernmost tier states of rural Yankees (i.e., Vermont, New Hampshire & Maine), native Frost writes in a free verse style with no set pattern in meter which aids in the feeling of a Yankee’s brevity in speech, i.e., saying what needs to be said simply, without too much elaboration or embellishment. In fact, publisher Amy Lowell observed about Frost’s poetry that he used “blank verse which does not hesitate to leave out a syllable or put one in” (Belasco 583).
Finally, to clarify what is meant by “Yankee perspective,” a promotion for subscriptions to Yankee Magazine puts it aptly:
“To a European or Asian, a Yankee is an American; to a southern American, a Yankee is a Northerner; to a Northerner, a Yankee is a New Englander; to a New Englander, a Yankee is a Vermonter; to a Vermonter, a Yankee is a person who eats apple pie for breakfast; to a Vermont person who eats apple pie for breakfast, a Yankee is someone who eats it with a knife. […] Yankees are known for their independence, practicality, frugality, tenacity, idealism, ingenuity, and just plain common sense.” (“Yankee” n.p.).
Robert Frost’s “After Apple-Picking,” like a Currier & Ives print, is at once charming and simple, yet leaving the reader to reflect on having glimpsed a small slice of the simplicity of country life in as much the same way as did the paintings of his fellow Yankee neighbor, artist Norman Rockwell.
Belasco, Susan and Linck Johnson, eds. The Bedford Anthology of American Literature, Volume Two: 1865 to the Present. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008. Print.
Frost, Robert. “After Apple-Picking.” 1914, 1969. Belasco 587-588. Print.
“Yankee Magazine.” MagMall.com. N.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2011. <http://www.magmall.com/products/Home/Yankee+Magazine-SKU-YAN01.htm>