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After Frost’s ‘After Apple-Picking’

‘My [lightweight, three-piece] ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still’
and Robert Frost and I
have these two things in common: we write (he wrote) poetry
and we have (he had) apples by the ton.
Saint Martin’s summer’s sun
has blessed my harvesting, and now illuminates
dozens of wooden boxes, plastic crates
dotted round the orchard on the hill
and left until tomorrow to be barrowed in and stored.
Like him, I’m glad,
in a way, to see the business over with, to be allowed to stop.
One can get bored
admiring each warm, individual beauty in a massive crop.
He said he had
‘ten thousand thousand’ grade-one fruit;
in other words, ten million — a figure I’d dispute
but poets will and should exaggerate.
We’ve both had vintage years, at any rate.
And now the problem starts;
it’s always like this when a bumper season ends.
How many apples can I palm off on my friends,
make chutney of, turn into pies and tarts?
How long, oh Lord (till Christmas?) must we eat stewed apple (laced,
I will admit, with Calvados)
at lunch and dinner every day
in order not to feel a sense of loss
that one of Your free gifts has gone to waste?

It is, I know, effrontery
to bracket in a poem Robert Frost and me.
But let the minor poet have his say.
Robert, your talent is the ripest specimen a summer’s light achieves.
I’m up the ladder, on the topmost rung. It’s out of reach.
Mine’s green and runtish, low down, hidden in the leaves.
Yet we are each
wealthy this evening as we sit and write indoors.
Sleep well tonight, ‘whatever sleep it is’. One final piece of cheek:
I bet you, any day this sunlit week,
I’ve handled apples just as big as yours.

Audio file

Listen to this poem — read by the author

After Apple-Picking — Robert Frost

My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
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.
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.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could 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.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
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 its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

Audio file

Listen to this poem — read by Keith Fulton