Nov 14, 2010

Robert Frost, "After Apple Picking." November Continues.

After Apple Picking by Robert Frost : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

Here’s a classic, as well as a quiet Sunday evening and November poem (or literally, October, I suppose). In the language of our time, we might also see it as metaphorical talk about retirement in addition to the approach of old age and death. The speaker's long, careful work has been finished—it had to be, for more would be all “ache” and might supplant the somber, dignified sense of completion he feels.

When a poem seems as natural, approachable and likable as the Tufted Titmouse to the left, we need to ask how it got that way. We need to make a conscious effort to notice any parts or features we especially like. So if you feel like it, please comment on any images, phrasings or ideas you find striking or unusually appealing.

The following three and half lines ring true for me in describing a kind of work that matters to the speaker, maybe a career as opposed to a job.

. . . 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.

Is it far-fetched or corny to see those lines as an apt analogy to a teaching career? If students are not delicate apples who (think they) will be tossed onto the cider heap of inferiority if teachers mishandle them, then I have badly misconstrued much of the enterprise.

Mind you, the delicate fruit doesn't have to be students. How about photographs or other works of art, pieces of writing, an attorney's clients, a doctor's patients, a carpenter's pieces, a mechanic's restored machines, one's own children, old or current loves? Haven't most of us carried one or another kind of fruit and felt forced to be careful with it? Maybe this is my favorite idea in the poem: the effort was worth it, but from it we can feel overtired, even though it's the harvest we desired.

As a final note, here is Frost sounding entirely casual and conversational again, for example: "and not let fall." There must be other, but more formal ways to say that, but Frost wants to sound as if he's chatting over a New England stone fence. So we need to notice the poem's rhyme and meter (on a third reading, if not the first). Monday's assignment, therefore, is a five-page paper on the ways Frost's poetic devices affect the poem as a whole, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Of course, your choosing to accept the mission doesn't mean I'm going to read it . . . .

If you focus on the bad and the ugly, you might wonder, with me, whether the woodchuck at the end is just a too-folksy way to avoid saying "death." I'm not being coy; my jury really is still out, has been for decades, on a whole host of things.



Michelle said...

As a teacher (special needs) I find the comparison to the poetry so true. So many lives to touch and not let fail.

Jean Spitzer said...

I like the "pane of glass"--though not enough to burden you with a five-page paper.

Banjo52 said...

Farmchick, good for you, and kudos. And yeah, I thought any teachers out there would hear a ring of truth.

Jean, I almost tried to comment on "pane of glass" too. It's an image that demands we pay attention, doesn't it. And it seems like an artist's kind of detail--how does one see the world? And is the world through a pane of glass the "real" one? You could do 5 pages on that in your sleep, I bet.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

This time I went directly to the poem before I read your text; your interpretation is better.

page 1
I saw it as a dead end job

page 2
aching instep; waitress/wallmart greeter

page 3
dream: working beside a plastic injection mold machine that puts out an object you have thirty second to skim the flash off of before the next one falls down the chute. This rhythm will take over your sleep

page 4
human sleep; wishing to quit

page 5
no worth: you can always be replaced

One day I'll explain the connection to bird groups and learning disabilities; or "challenges". The word "disabled" seems to have gotten an upgrade

Pasadena Adjacent said...

And the photos are beautiful. I've never experienced falls such as these, so they strike me as exotic as opposed to melancholy

Brenda's Arizona said...

I wonder: how can anyone walk away from the apples/students/anything when there is still more to do?
How can Frost leave the stray apples?

Are the dreams actually 'gentle nightmares' of what he left behind to suffer in the cold night?

And what did he see thru the pane of glass? Am I missing it?

It is hard to not want everything save, everything right with the world. Just one more apple... let me pick just one more.

Let me take just one more photo, and then choose them all for display! Your's are excellent, Banjomyn!

Anonymous said...

You're such a natural teacher...

Barbaro said...

This is a lovely poem, too easily dismissed by those who equate edginess with goodness.

One thing that gets way undersold about Frost is his physicality--he really was a farmer, and this poem shows it: the ache of ladder rounds, the blurred vision through ice he can't rub from his eyes, the visceral threat of the cider's almost like Cormac McCarthy.

Elegant simplicity of language is also way underrated: "But I am done with apple-picking now" is the most casual and yet powerful statement in the whole poem.

Nice photo of (fir) trees.

Banjo52 said...

AH, that's about as nice a comment as anybody could make. Thank you.

PA, Brenda, Barbaro, you're all saying related things, I think, yet with different emphases. PA is seeing more negatives, Brenda's noticing the negatives in a more potential way, and Barbaro is seeing elegance and dignity without denying the challenges Frost presents. And don't you think none of you are wrong?

Brenda, to me the pane of glass is somewhat literally a lens, which opens onto the dream world he's about to explore, his troubling vision of unpicked or damaged apples. But the sliver of ice, as a pane of glass, makes clear that it's . . . an impressionistic? distorted? . . . view? So maybe we shouldn't trust it completely?

Thanks for the photo compliments. Maybe they're just post-cardy cliches, but I like 'em, both the original scenes and the photos as reminders.

Banjo52 said...

P.S., Barbaro, I like your comment about edginess. Now there's a whole discussion!

Kitty said...

yknow it's interesting to read Frost again, now. Reading poetry in school is so utterly different. You don't notice a lot of things.

Like that fact that Frost takes such everyday images or experiences and makes something meaningful and large out of them.

I am too tired tonight to read this poem more carefully. I'll have to come back to it. Thanks though, for opening my eyes again to this much underappreciated art form!

Banjo52 said...

Kitty, yes. Of course, I think that applies to much or most of poetry, and probably other art as well. It's VERY important to come back to it (as well as new aert) as a VOLUNTARY adult. The old school days biz isn't necessarily invalid, but it's rarely or never complete. We were studying for THE TEST, after all.

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