Robert Frost’s “After Apple Picking” is on first reading a reflection on a time-honored autumn tradition. A close reading reveals subtle allusions and metaphors that provide a much darker tone and supports a critic’s description of Frost as a “terrifying” poet. “Terror” and “terrifying” seem to be odd and misplaced words to use in reference to the Frost and his work. However these words are best applied to what is perceived first as something harmless but then changes rapidly into something powerful and dangerous.
The day after harvesting a great crop of apples should be a time of grateful thanksgiving for a bountiful crop but is instead the backdrop for thoughts deep and unpleasant. A day picking apples would seem to bring the warmth and sense of accomplish-ment of a fall harvest, but for Frost he could not remove “the strangeness from my sight” of the vision he had looking through a pane of ice-glass. It was not a comforting vision and he “let it fall and break”.
With a sense of foreboding he explains he was “well upon my way to sleep before it fell” and regardless of the vision he “could tell what form my dreaming was about to take. ” It will not be a pleasant one; in fact it may be of discomfort as he has nothing pleasant to say of his harvest. His foot carries the pain of latter-climbing as he carries the memory of being on an unstable ladder swaying in the branches.
His sleep, or metaphorically his death—“the woodchuck could say whether it like his long sleep, as I describe its coming on, or just some human sleep” will be troubled. He is “overtired” and “had too much” of a harvest he once desired, and now considers the apples “that struck the earth” to be of no account. He provides no sense of joy in what should be a universally pleasant theme, and that it itself is terrifying.