Set in the evening of a late autumn day at the end of harvest time, Robert Frost's "After Apple-Picking" can be interpreted in two ways. The first is that the poem is an insight into Frost's thoughts on the triviality of life, especially his own. The second is that it is a metaphor for the Bible story of Adam and Eve. Whatever the interpretation, there is a tension between feelings of regret and satisfaction that is created and sustained throughout the entire poem by the use of many contributing factors." After Apple-Picking" paints the picture of a chilly evening near the beginning of winter. The speaker has just finished picking apples for that year's harvest, his ladder still leaning against the tree.
There are very few apples left on the tree and one of his baskets isn't quite full. His feet hurt from standing on the ladder for too long and the smell of apples is everywhere. He is tired and starts to drift off into sleep. Frost takes this ordinary experience and turns it into a contemplation on life.
The first sign of any kind of tension is in the first six lines. The ladder, which points "toward heaven," represents the speaker's climb through life toward death and heaven and the barrel and apples left on the tree represent things he regrets having or not having done during his lifetime. But in line six he says that he is "done with apple-picking now," which sounds as if he's saying that what's done is done and he must accept it. It is almost as if he is having a conflict within himself as to whether he should be content with his life or not. The "sleep" that the speaker mentions constantly throughout the poem represents death.
When he says, "Essence of winter sleep is on the night," he is recognizing his own mortality. In the last three lines he wonders whether his sleep will be a long sleep like that of the woodchuck or "just some human sleep." He is wondering if he is going to die soon. The more Biblical interpretation identifies with the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The apples from the Tree of Knowledge were the fruit that Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat, yet they still did and this conveys a feeling of great tension and regret as in the first few lines. The apple tree is the Garden of Eden and the apples left on the tree and the barrel that isn't full represent the feeling of regret and remorse Adam and Eve feel after having eaten the apple. In line nine the speaker says that he "cannot rub the strangeness" from his sight.
This could represent the change in perception Adam and Eve underwent that was, no doubt, strange to them. There was no way they could go back to the way they had seen things before they took the apple from the Tree of Knowledge. In lines 27 - 29 also, the speaker says that he has "had too much" and is "overtired of the great harvest" he desired. Once Adam and Eve had eaten and gained all the knowledge they had wanted, they soon wished they hadn't. In line 33 the apples that "struck the earth" represent Adam and Eve's fall from grace. Their banishment from the Garden is depicted in lines 35 and 36 in the apples that "Went surely to the cider-apple heap/As of no worth." Frost never reaches a conclusion nor does he resolve the tension.
As he progresses through the poem, Frost keeps linking one feeling of tension to a new one, until the reader is left, having climbed to the top of a ladder of tension and gone nowhere.