More Frost! I swear that this course and Countdown are not going to turn into “Robert Frost and Friends.” But we have miles to go before we sleep, and somewhere in the very top echelon of modern poems we have to find room for “After Apple-Picking”. Like many of Frost’s poems, it’s a simple story about working in the country. The work itself is simple, and repetitive to the point of monotony. The work is valuable: if you want apples (for your own use or for profit), you have to pick them. But like any work, however valuable, the work becomes so all-consuming that all the worker can see is the reiteration, the arbitrary rules, and the oppressive scale of his achievement.
When I read a poem like this, I’m tempted to find a “extended metaphor” in it: do the apples, and all the operations that the speaker performs on them, somehow stand for something else? Yet I don’t think that’s the case here, or at least, as often with Frost, the “tenor” of the metaphor (what its surface or “vehicle” stands for) is vague. There’s no hidden meaning. Work is work, and all work is somewhat alike, especially when it overwhelms the worker. Yet we keep doing it, and not just for the tangible compensations.
Most beautiful to me in “After Apple-Picking” is the music of the poem. The form is one that I have called “free-rhyming” verse. The lines are of all different lengths. There’s no rhyme scheme in the sense of a predictable pattern. But the poem uses a lot of rhyme, both at the ends of the lines and internally within the lines. It’s a spoken-word concoction that makes use of the natural phrase lengths of English speech.