Meter, Rhyme, and Rhythm Patterns in "After Apple Picking"
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 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.
Lines 1 - 6
The first six lines of Robert Frost’s poem “After Apple-Picking” use an end rhyme pattern of abbacc. Basic iambic pentameter exists in the final four of these lines, contrasting with the first and second lines of hexameter and diameter. The first line is the longest line at twelve syllables, and shows enjambment, continuing without pause into the next line of five syllables with an end-pause.
As such, with the first line being the longest and the next being one of the shortest, they both combine to form a single drawn-out thought, the length of which is emphasized through the long vowel sounds in “long”, “two”, “pointed”, “through”, and “toward”, which slow down the rhythm of the lines. The short length and therefore abrupt ending of the end-paused second line, creates emphasis on the ending word “still”. The emphasis continues with a couplet rhyme in the next sentence. The word “still” slows down the first pair of lines in the poem yet further by suggesting monotony and repetition.
The first two lines also have internal rhyme as well, as in the first line when “two” rhymes with “through”. This pattern continues in the next few lines: in the third line “barrel” rhymes with “fill” of the third line and “still” of the second line; in the fourth line “be” rhymes with “three” of the third line and “two” rhymes with “through” of the first line; in the fifth line “pick” rhymes with the first line’s “sticking” as well as the sixth line’s “picking”; creating a rhythm of similar sounds and connecting the first six lines together which otherwise differ dramatically in structure.
The pause after the second line doesn’t come to a complete stop until the end of the fifth line; these first five lines have been a detailed account of work left undone. The first two lines with enjambment and long vowel sounds seem slow and tired, but the third, fourth, and fifth lines continue the thought at a hastened pace, an elaboration of work ahead that reaches the level of consciousness.
This increased pace is achieved through the repetition of the staccato “i” sounds in “I” “didn’t”, “fill”, “it”, “beside”; and the staccato “e” sounds in “barrel”, “beside”, “three”, “be”. By the end of the fifth line this thought concludes, and in the sixth the tone slows down again with a weary claim that what is undone will remain undone.
This weariness is shown by the use of multiple one-syllable words that slow down the pace of the line that ends with a long stressed word, “now”. Despite this lines slowing, its words are compactly stored in one line, a contrast to the previous thought that lasted five lines. The sixth line therefore has a sense of finality and exhausted conclusiveness.
Lines 7 - 12
The next six lines follow the end rhyme scheme dedfef and a general pattern of iambic pentameter. Greater conformity of structure between all six lines coincides with less internal rhyme, although the beginning of “drowsing” rhymes with both “bough” of line five and “now” of line six.
However, instead of continuing internal rhymes to link the second set of six lines together, there is a recurrence of the words themselves such as “from” in lines nine, ten, and eleven, that although not rhyme, are also a repetition of sounds that contribute to an overall pattern. These lines elaborate further on the exhaustion hinted at in the preceding six lines with the words “sleep”, “night”, “drowsing off”, and the “rubbing” of eyes. The exhaustion in “drowsing off” is underscored by the long vowel sounds present in the phrase.
Lines 13 - 17
The next four lines follow the end rhyme scheme ghhh, alternating iambic pentameter and iambic diameter. The last four lines of the previous section describe the pane of ice, through which the speaker looked, as distorting his vision. The following first line of this section is abrupt as it describes the breaking and melting of the ice, the same ice the previous four lines described in detail without pause, in a single line with an end-stop. The breaking of the ice signals an end to the flowing verse of lines blending into one another, and the pattern of the poem shifts from that of the previous eleven lines.
The following second and forth lines in this section are diameters, and are strongly end-rhymed with each other as well as the third line. The effect is almost jarring, as the preceding lines contained only two couplets, the last existing seven lines before this three line end rhyme scheme. Furthermore, no previous lines were as short as the second and fourth lines of this section, with only four syllables.
The dreamlike steadily flowing previous lines describe looking through ice as if it blurred reality as in a dream, vanishing when the ice shattered. Reality is now brought to the surface, the illusion disintegrates with these three highly irregular, bold, almost choppy lines, demanding a higher focus and concentration to link these unpredicted lines to the rest of the poem. It demands a higher consciousness, like that demanded of the speaker himself when jolted to awareness by the shattering of the ice.
Lines 18 - 23
The first line of the next seven lines of the poem, end rhymed gijigkj, returns to the pattern of iambic pentameter as it returns to the concept of “dreaming”. The return to a soothing tone is furthered by the reoccurring ‘m’ sound in this line in “form”, “my”, and “dreaming”, which has a satisfying association with contentment and peacefulness.
However, the following two lines show the dream as not relaxing but rather as disturbed by images of apples. This troubled sleep is suggested by distinctly altered sentence structure with two lines of eleven and then six syllables, and close and obvious repetition of words to underscore the images of apples which “appear” and “disappear” from “end” to “end” in the speaker’s dreams. The last four lines of this section again roughly follow the pattern of iambic pentameter, the first beginning the transition from the “magnified” imagery detailed in the preceding variant lines to the image of color which then becomes “dear” to the speaker, moving away from distressing images of nature to color schemes which are pleasant to behold.
However, although returning to pentameter form, the last three lines of this section continue the distinct repetition of words, although at a less alarming pace than the second and third lines where the repetition existed within the same lines themselves. In contrast, in these last lines the repetition of words link subsequent lines together, still alluding to a sense of repeating torment the speaker is experiencing, although of a physical nature that is slightly less troublesome than the previous mental torment, which was signaled by more intense repetition.
In these last three lines, “keeps” of the fifth line is repeated in the sixth, and “ladder” in the sixth line is repeated in the seventh line of this section.
Lines 24 - 26
The next three lines, end rhymed lkl, detail the sounds of the apples being collected from the harvest. The cacophonous and repetitive sounds of endless apples rolling into a cellar is imitated through intense rhyming and repetition of sounds within and between these three lines: the “ar” sound of “hearing” and “cellar” within the first line; “from” in the first line rhyming with the beginning of “rumbling” of the second line and “coming” of the third line, as well as the repetition of the “ing” sound in “rumbling” and “coming”; the “in” sound in “bin” of the first line, “rumbling” of the second line, and “in” of the third line.
All sound repetition comes to a forte in the third line in which the words “of” and “load” are both repeated as well as the “o” sound, also present in “on” of the same line. This line specifically details the continual loads of apples coming into the cellar, the slow and continual progression which is furthered by the long ‘o’ sound present in the first five words of the third line.
Lines 27 - 31
The next five lines, end rhymed mnnmo, describe the resolve to cease picking apples. The first line of this section, comprised solely of single syllable words which slow down the progression of the line, as well as containing long vowel sounds in “for” and “too”, shows that the speaker has reached the level of exhaustion and has worked too long and hard, or “too much”.
The next four lines describe his fatigue at collecting “ten thousand thousand” apples, emphasis of quantity achieved through repetition, and these lines revert to iambic pentameter which is structured and smooth and associated with sleep and peacefulness throughout this poem. The beginning of this step back towards pentameter begins with a line ending in “overtired”, suggesting the beginning of a sleeplike quality.
However, this dreaminess does not endure, for the very last word of the last sentence in this section, “fall”, signals another jolt and moment of awakening and the poem proceeds to break away from iambic pentameter.
Lines 32 - 36
The next five lines, end rhymed opqrp, describe the fate of fallen apples. The first line is the shortest line of the poem, a single meter comprised of two syllables in a spondee pattern, with sharp emphasis and long vowel sounds in both words “for” and “all”. The beginning “f” sound in “fall”, which ends the preceding line, is carried to the first word “for” in the first line of this section, and “all” in this first line also rhymes directly with “fall”, linking both words to the concept of the falling apples. The abruptness of their emphasis simulates falling apples with each accented syllable.
This pattern is continued in the following four syllable line of single syllable words, adding an element of choppiness that continues to imitate the sound of dropping apples, as well as containing the phrase “struck the earth”. In the third line, harsh sounds predominate, such as the “t” sound in “matter”, “not”, “with”, and “stubble”, as well as the “k” sound in “spiked”, which may also continue to mock the sound of falling apples, each with a distinct thud. The next two lines describe the apples, turned into cider at a loss of profit.
The last line calls back to attention the second line of this section, as both are four syllables long, comprised only of single syllable words, and have rhyming last words. This links the concepts of fallen apples directly to their loss of worth.
Lines 37 - 42
The last six lines of the poem, end rhymed qststr, conclude the poem and link the rest of the poem to the speaker’s lack of peaceful sleep. The first line of this section, with a sense of weariness shown in the vowel sounds of “one”, “see”, and “trouble”, and the sense of “troubled” dreams, has an end rhyme with a previous line terminating with “stubble”, recalling the cause of these troubled dreams as fallen apples not covered with stubble but still turned into unprofitable cider.
The second line ponders sleep, repeating the word “sleep” for emphasis and returning to iambic pentameter as every previous line associated with slumber. The word “sleep” is repeated throughout these last lines, twice in the second line, once in the fifth, and at the end of the sixth, the end of the poem.
“Sleep” rhymes with the previous line ending in “heap”, yet although sleep internally rhymes in the second and fifth lines of this section, the final end rhyme is not completed until the very end of the poem. The ending lines contain numerous long vowels, present in the word “sleep” as well as “gone” in the third line, “woodchuck” in the fourth line, “long” and “on” of the fifth line, and “or” of the sixth line, suggesting fatigue once again.
Although the sixth line contains the word “sleep” it is the only line in the poem that does so without reverting to iambic pentameter, remaining at six syllables. This draws attention to its premature ending word “sleep”, which finally completes the end rhyme begun seven lines previously with “heap”, hinted at with repeated internal rhyme, yet only properly end rhymed at the very end of the work, connecting both concepts upon the poems’ conclusion.