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Robert Frost & Ecclesiastes 3:

 Apple Picking

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.


The poem is about the approach of death: the ladder has gone through the tree points toward heaven. There is work which has not been finished. There is a strangeness he cannot shake. There is exhaustion with his work. There is a sleep coming, but he doesn’t know what it is. 

This poem was written well before Frost died. It is not really about the approach of his own death, but rather the question raised in Ecclesiastes 3:

 18 I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts.

19 For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity.

20 All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.

21 Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth?

22 So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him? http://esv.to/Eccles3.18-22