September begins apple picking on Long Island orchards. This poetry column consists of three parts: first, the story of Johnny Apple Seed, our most famous agriculturalist, second, the poem “after apple picking,” by Robert Frost, and the third is my interpretation of the Frost poem.
The Story of Johnny Appleseed
Johnny Appleseed spent 49 years of his life in the American wilderness planting apple seeds. Johnny Appleseed’s real name was John Chapman. He was born September 26, 1774 in Massachusetts. He created apple orchards in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Ohio. After 200 years, some of those trees still bear apples.
Johnny Appleseed’s dream was for a land where blossoming apple trees were everywhere and no one was hungry. A gentle and kind man, he slept outdoors and walked barefoot around the country planting apple seeds everywhere he went. It is even told that he made his drinking water from snow by melting it with his feet.
Johnny was a friend to everyone he met. Indians and settlers — even the animals — liked Johnny Appleseed. His clothes were made from sacks and his hat was a tin pot. He also used his hat for cooking. His favorite book was the Bible.
There are many tales about Johnny Appleseed. It is said that once Johnny fell asleep and a rattlesnake tried to bite him, but the fangs would not go into his foot because his skin was as tough as an elephant’s hide. Another tale describes him playing with a bear family.
Johnny Appleseed died in 1845. It was the only time he had been sick — in over 70 years!!!
After Apple Picking
By 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 dear.
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.
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.
Interpretation of “After apple picking” by Robert Frost
By Lawrence Spiro
Imagine a Norman Rockwell character, a young man, perhaps a young Johnny Apple Seed, who after a long day of apple picking and hard cider recounts his day. The poem is a dramatic monologue of an auto-erotic experience wrapped up in the time, place and intimacy of the “…cellar bin.”
(Lines 1-6) The two pointed ladder is a phallus symbol “…sticking…toward heaven still.” The narrator is “done for… now” –gratified, but not finished.
(Lines 7-8) The poem provides strong concepts of winter and night. The tumescence of fall is followed by the contraction of night and “essence of winter sleep.” The infertility of fall and the lifeless winter are weaved together with the sensual scent of apples.
(Lines 9-12) Inebriated, He continues the “rub” and fantasizes as “looking through a pane of glass.”
(Lines 13-20) Provide image after image of exciting fantasy stimulation of the apple and its parts “showing dear.”
(Line 21-23) from his feet (instep) to his loins, he feels “the pressure of a ladder-round,” and “the ladder sway as the boughs bend.” The bough, barrel, ladder and later the woodchuck, are metaphors for wood,or as the boys say– woody.
(Line 24-29) His sensual stupor continues, and he has emissions of “load on load of apples coming in,” as he is “overtired.” “Of the great harvest I myself desired.”
(Line 30-36) visual frames pass through his mind, exaggerative fantasy partners “ten thousand thousand fruit to touch, “cherish in hand, and not let fall.” “… struck the earth””….as of no worth.” His infertile emissions mime the infertility of fall.
(Line 37-42). At the conclusion of the poem, our character compares his sleep to that of a Woodchuck’s animal sleep of hibernation. The woodchuck, unlike the narrator, can’t speak, or fantasize. Eroticism is displaced by instinct. The narrator has a rich experience designed by desire and is ready to enjoy a “long sleep, as I describe its coming on.”
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