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I figured I would start with a little overall introduction to Frost. Below are some of the big events that I think shaped his life. We can revist each in more detail as we go through the poems. I also include a paragraph on the question that interests me most about Frost: the perception of Frost in this country and the reality of his poetry. As I said when I first suggested this discussion, my knowledge of Frost comes from a project I did on his bio. in grad school. If the below sounds like it is something you would see in a college essay, well it is.

On the 26th of March, 1874 a physician arrived at the San Francisco home of William and Belle Frost to deliver the couple's first child. Upon the physician's arrival, the expecting father pulled out a Colt revolver and threatened to kill the doctor if anything happened to either his wife or child. A number of hours later, the physician delivered a baby boy; thus began the traumatic life of America's most popular poets. Throughout his life, Robert Frost met with repeated tragedy. In 1900 Frost's first son Elliot died at the age of three. Elliot's death marked a turning point in Frost's relationship with his wife Elinor. A bitter deterioration began within the relationship that ultimately affected every member of the family. In 1907 Frost's sixth child died after living only two days. In 1920 Frost committed his sister Jeanie to an insane asylum; twenty years later Frost's daughter Irma followed suit. In 1934 Frost lost a second daughter, Marjorie, when she succumbed to tuberculosis. Six years later, two years after his wife's death, Frost's son Carol ended his own life with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Frost ultimately outlived four of his six children and saw one of the remaining two institutionalized.

Frost has earned the title of America's most beloved poet. Throughout his career he was awarded four Pulitzer prizes, more than any other writer. His poetry has become a part of the American vernacular with phrases like “Good fences make good neighbors” appearing on billboards and poems like “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” becoming an introduction to poetry for countless schoolchildren. These popular poems exemplify the contradiction in the perception of Frost's work. Frost is often seen as a white-haired New England poet writing idyllic verse about America. In reality his poetry often reflects the trauma and pain that existed within his life.

1FW
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Here is a little more detail on Frost's early life. He was born in 1874 in San Fran. His father was an alcoholic and mentally and physically abused him (once slashing him with a dog chain). His father got tuberculosis when Frost was 8. Realizing his time was limited, Frost's father got severely depressed and tried to become more tender with his son, at times hugging him while streched on the sofa all the while breathing his contaminated breath on Frost. He died in 1885. Frost's mother tried to compensate for her husband's actions by mothering Frost. After his Father's death, Frost would sleep in the same room with his mother. She used the Bible and literature as an escape for her son, constantly reading to him from a very early age. After his death, Frost and his Mother moved to live with Frost's grandparents in New England.

This and any other biographical info comes from Jeffrey Meyers' Robert Frost: A Biography.

1FW

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You said, "After his death, Frost and his Mother moved to live with Frost's grandparents in New England."

That sounds kind of hard to do ... or was it "after his father's death" ... ?

Just being picky :):)

Seriously, doesn't the poetry, painting, writing and the works of any artist exhibit all the facets of his/her life? What else can we bring to the table? Some of us bring one aspect in a much greater degree perhaps even than we experienced it. Is this not due to the intenseness of the experience being more important than the quantity. Although I suppose in time the quantity can overcome intensity.

I enjoy this board and will continue to lurk (and always as an English editor) so be careful what you say.
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More early details:

As a senior in High School Frost fell in love with Elinor White. After graduation, Frost went to Dartmouth and Elinor went to a small school in NY. Frost dropped out of Dartmouth only after a few months and returned home. Frost heard that Elinor had acquired a suitor at college and decided he would win her back. Frost had been writing poetry for a little while and copied down 5 of his poems and had them printed on fine paper and bound in brown leather with the title Twilight stamped in gold on the cover. He only made two copies, one for him and one for Elinor. With the two volumes he travelled to St. Lawrence NY where she was in school for a suprise vist and proposal. She was suprised and pissed at his unanounced visit. She took the book he offered her but refused to let him in her house, closing the door in his face. Frost, walking out of town, destroyed his copy of the book.

The remaining copy is now at UVA. Here is a link to a photo of it if you are interested (scroll down):

http://www.lib.virginia.edu/cgi-bin/most.pl

Ok, back to the story. Frost being an overdramatic "artist" decides he will show Elinor by killing himself. But he didn't really want to die, so he made a symbolic suicide attempt. He travelled all the way from New England to the Dismal Swamp in North Carolina. He had always admired Longfellow. Longfellow's "The Slave in the Dismal Swamp" tells teh tale of a persecuted runaway slave hiding out in the swamp. He walked ten miles into the swamp, found a bunch of drunk duck hunters and proceeded to join them in a meal and travelled in their boat to the Outer banks. From there he made his way back to New England. Apparently this "suicide attempt" worked; Frost married Elinor three years later.

Hang in there, we are almost to the poetry.

1fw
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One more post to get us up to the publication of his first book. I'll jump through this quickly, we can come back to stuff later as it appears in his poems.

Frost and Elinor married in 1895.

They had their first child in (I think) 1896. His name was Elliot

Frost enrolled at Harvard in 1897.

Became ill at Harvard and left to become a farmer in spring of 1899.

Second child, Lesley, born in 1899.

1900 Elliot became sick. Elinor's mother and sister (christian scientists) insisted a doctor should not be called. The boy got worse. Frost finally called his own doctor. He arrived and said they had called too late. Elliot died the next day.

Relationship between Frost and Elinor began to go down hill.

1902 son Carol born; 1903 daughter Irma; daughter Marjorie a year later.

A final daughter, Elinor Bettina, was born in June of 1907 and died two days later.

Having trouble getting his work published, Frost took Elinor and his four children to England for a three year stay in 1912. There he met a number of poets, including Ezra Pound. He Published A Boy's Will in 1913 and North of Boston in 1914. Both through a small English publisher. Both of these volumes were subsequently published again in the United States by Holt Publishing.

Ok that gets us to the poems. I'm tired of talking. Anyone have comments on "Mowing?."

1fw
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....1FW.Was there some sort of fued between Frost and Carl Sandburg?I thought I read or heard of something like that.Larry
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....Nice bio 1FW.Well,about"Mowing",I would say that my interpretation is that his mowing the field is a labor of love rather than one of compensation.Just the solitude and sun on his face is compensation enough.How'd I do?Larry
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The remaining copy is now at UVA. Here is a link to a photo of it if you are interested (scroll down):

http://www.lib.virginia.edu/cgi-bin/most.pl



Woops!!

I just checked this link it is right but not exactly right. When you click on it, it will take you to a page with a drop down box on the top. Click on the drop down box and go to rarest. Then Scroll down.

Try some of the other categories if you are interested in really old and really really expensive stuff. This exhibit is an exhibit of the most interesting things in UVA's special collections.
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Was there some sort of fued between Frost and Carl Sandburg?

There is something about that. I can't remember the details. I'll look.

I would say that my interpretation is that his mowing the field is a labor of love rather than one of compensation.Just the solitude and sun on his face is compensation enough.

I would agree its a labor of love. Certainly not a financial issue. I think you are also right about the other part, but I would add to it. I don't know that just the solitude and sun and nature in general by themselves are compensation enough. Certainly they are a big part of it. That is part of the experience that seems essential. But to me it is the knowledge that work (hard work) is being done that also serves as compensation. Work is hard and that is a truth. Understanding that truth and accepting it and producing good work is thus rewarding.

How exquisite - every word is expressive, pure.

Yeah, Frost does a great job with word choice in this poem. It has a very dreamy, smooth, "whispery" feel to it.

1FW
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"Mowing" seems to me to be about work. It seems ironic that he was such a bad bad farmer. He worked on and off his entire life at farming and never was able to support his family on it. He seemed to want to be a farmer, but...

But in the poem he talks about love of hard work etc...so what kind of work did Frost do, what work did he love. I think most will agree it is Poetry. I think this poem has to be read on some level as a discussion of his art or the process of writing. Writing poems was the hard work that Frost does. He would work and work his lines of poetry until he thought they were right. Perhaps this was not physically challenging, but it certainly is mentally challenging. Frost returns to this theme of the difficulty and work involved in creating his poetry throughout his career, often dicussing the need to "hibernate" after a spurt of creativity. We'll see this in "After Apple Picking."

I said in the previous post that knowledge of hard work was a reward. I think there is another element in this and that is loving the work. Frost writes:

Anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak
To the earnest love that laid the swale in rows,
Not without feeble-pointed spikes of flowers
(Pale orchises), and scared a bright green snake.
The fact is the sweetest dream that labour knows.


Work done in "earnest love" has its price (cutting down the flowers, scaring the snake) but that is the basic fact of labour. It ain't easy and it takes its toll. But if it is done with earnest love, that price is worth the reward. At least thats my take--I could be way off.

1FW
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I have two questions about Mowing. First and easiest: what does swale mean? I can guess but it's not in my dictionary and sometimes unknown words can mean surprising things.
Second: why the emphasis on silence? (never a sound, whispering, lack of sound, did not speak) There's something a little unnerving about it to me.
I'm also a little uncertain what to make of the key line: The fact is the sweetest dream that labour knows. The fact of completion of a task? The accomplishment of a goal? I guess that makes sense. What do you think?
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Second: why the emphasis on silence? (never a sound, whispering, lack of sound, did not speak)

I don't know Frost well, but the image of the scythe whispering to the ground evokes in me the image of death with it's scythe.

It would seem the emphasis on silence supports this image of death.

It seems that the sweetest dream that labour knows may be just life and living and the inevitability of death.

Also a pale orchis looks a bit like a lily which is also associated with death.
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Hi Sharon22,

First and easiest: what does swale mean?

I suggest GuruNet - just clicking on swale in your note immediately put this response on the screen:

A low tract of land, especially when moist or marshy.

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I don't know Frost well, but the image of the scythe whispering to the ground evokes in me the image of death with it's scythe.

It would seem the emphasis on silence supports this image of death.

It seems that the sweetest dream that labour knows may be just life and living and the inevitability of death.


Never thought about scythe and death. Seems obvious now.... I think Sharon's word "unnerving" is appropriate. I definitely think there is something here about death but also peace maybe. I'm trying to reconcile it with the idea of labour. Maybe this sort of labour when accepted without complaint, while difficult and not without effort, can bring a sense of peace much like a life lived and accepted without complaint ultimately brings death but also that same peace. I may be stretcing here. Thoughts???

1FW
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Please continue with mower, its a difficult one for me. I'm enjoying trying to crack it.

Here is a little side note about A Boy's Will, the book it came out of. This was Frost's first volume of poetry. Most of his early life he was influenced by the British poets and American Romantics--especially Longfellow. While, Longfellow was an American, he (and every other American writer before Whitman) were still tied stylistically to the British. In Frost's first book we still see some of that British influence. You don't see it real clearly in "Mowing" but it is glaringly obvious in another poem in the collection: "My Butterfly"

Thine emulous fond flowers are dead, too,
And the daft sun-assaulter, he
That frightened thee so oft, is fled or dead


Doesn't really sound like Frost. This was written a number of years before the book was published. The other poems in the volume have this British influence to one extent or another. Two years later when Frost published North of Boston, he first showed complete control over his unique voice. There we first really hear the colloquial and truly American Frost that would become famous.

1FW

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more thoughts on MOWING:

I agree with Sharon, too. There is something unnerving about this poem and the subtle associations with silence and death. Frost has a unique ability to take us with him to that quiet , lonely place which we all retreat to sooner or later. We work because we have to, and because it passes the time, but some moments you just can't escape, no matter how busy you are.

"anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak" is a very powerful line. We struggle to tame nature, to fight the current, to soldier on, and yet the true perfection is hearing that silence.

I'm rambling (sorry!), and don't pretend to be an expert on Frost, I just love how he chooses his words so carefully.
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Thanks for the explanation of swale, davedo. (I'll have to try GuruNet.) Does it evoke a newly dug grave? I admit that might be going too far with imagery, but I think for Frost death is a fact of life and death imagery permeates his works because as a poet he senses there is no life without death. After all, nothing that can't die is considered living. And because he writes so much about life he's just stating the obvious when he evokes death. (In our culture death is often treated as a dirty little secret no one likes to even think about.)

I think the one of the reasons we like Frost so much is that he is never morbid. In Mowing he extols the virtue and rewards of hard work and even when mowing "feeble-pointed spikes of flowers" and a bright green snake remain. Renewal? The promise of continuance?

I'm having problems with the line "Anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak". Why more? Why not less? How can we make sense out of that?

Enjoying this immensely,
Sharon
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Sharon-

Nice post.

for Frost death is a fact of life

I think this is true. By the time this was written, he had already seen both of his parents die (one to TB another to cancer) and two of his own children die. I think death was certainly something that was part of his life.

I would suggest bringing in another poem and talking about it while we continue with "Mowing." "After Apple Picking" is probably my favorite Frost poem:

http://www.ketzle.com/frost/apple.htm

I think it would work well with this "Mowing" discussion--its another poem that is all about labour and death. It comes out of Frost's second book of poetry, North of Boston. Note the language change in the stuff from this book. Little more colloquial and conversational with less traditional poetic syntax and diction.

I am curious about this part in particular:

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.


Especially "Were he not gone." I know it directly refers to the woodchuck in the next line, but the way line stands alone by itself, with a comma after it to give pause, I can't help but think of his son Elliot who had died a few years earlier. Is this what is troubling his sleep? Any thoughts??

1FW
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Anyone remember the name of the poem where he says "home is the place where when you have nowhere to go, they have to take you in"?

I read that over 20 years ago and it has always stuck with me.
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That was a misquote, I believe the correct line was
"home is the place where if you have to go there, they have to take you in"
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Try for this line in "Death of the Hired Hand".
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A very rough interpretation. Incomplete and incorrect, but what the heck:
Mowing

There was never a sound beside the wood but one,
And that was my long scythe whispering to the ground.


The only sound is the sound of death. Throughout life, the inevitability of death is always there and is the only real sound we hear.

What was it it whispered? I knew not well myself;
Perhaps it was something about the heat of the sun,


I think the heat of the sun is reference to life, as the sun ultimately is the source of all life. Death speaks to us about the heat of the sun, the energy of life.

Something, perhaps, about the lack of sound--
And that was why it whispered and did not speak.

But no one really knows what death will bring. It never tells us, but only whispers so low that we can't hear. No one knows what death will bring, and there really is no way to find out.

It was no dream of the gift of idle hours,
Or easy gold at the hand of fay or elf:


Death's whisperings to Frost are not of a paradise of idle hours and gold.

Anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak
More than the truth of death as an end doesn't compute? No paradise awaiting?

To the earnest love that laid the swale in rows,

And yet, it is from love that really makes the impact of death felt. I'd guess the generations that have been born and died and laid to rest in rows (cemetaries) are what the swale represents. The mown swale also invokes images of a grave yard.

Not without feeble-pointed spikes of flowers

and the feeble pointed spikes of flowers can be flowers on grave stones or the grave stones themselves

(Pale orchises), and scared a bright green snake.
Pale orchises invoke the image of a lily and the snake has long been held as a symbol of death and rebirth. The snake sheds it's skin and grows another like people may shed their bodies and be reborn. I don't know if this is hinting at the possibility of rebirth or if the snake is scared because he does not believe in the rebirth.

The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows.
My long scythe whispered and left the hay to make.


The fact that death awaits is a comfort that this life of toil will end, but death still only whispers to us and we do not know what really awaits us at the end of life. And though, the scythe continuously whispers, you still have to “make hay while the sun shines” and live your life while you have it.
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Very nice estd. I like, I like. You seem to be going for an underlying meaning in this poem. I think on the surface it is about labour, specifically a metaphor for writing. But I love the interpretation you are working with. As is often the case with good poems, there is that underlying meaning (often the underlying one is more interesting or effective on an emotional level).

I especially like the image of the rows as rows of dead in a cemetary.


1FW


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Thank you very much!

"Death of the Hired Hand"

http://www.ncsd.k12.pa.us/pssa/Reading/deathtxt.htm

It has stuck with me since we read it my senior year of high school. I guess it has prodigal son aspects, and the reference to three (the moon, the cloud, and Mary) probably has some significance. It has been so long since I used my brain it is kind of hard to analyse a poem now, though I was an English major in college.

A couple of years after I read it I was driving home after making the rounds at the bars (I was just 19 then, young and stupid) and crash into an interstate overpass, car turned around and hit the other side of the overpass head on. Nobody else involved, I by some miracle escaped unscathed (when my friends saw the totalled car they were amazed I wasn't dead) and I remember my parents coming to pick me up at the hospital and me feeling a centimeter tall.

So that line always stuck with me: "Home is the place where when you have to go there, they have to take you in."
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Yes, I think it could be fruitful to discuss "After Apple-Picking" in conjunction with "Mowing", (I would be especially interested in hearing why it's your favorite) but I would like to suggest that we redefine our threads with the titles of the specific poems. We can still keep the main thread for general comments and bringing our ideas together, or would that clutter things up too much?
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Subject: After Apple-Picking

Here are a few thoughts I had when reading this poem - ideas to kick around.

There are certainly parallels to Mowing here. As you've already mentioned, 1 Finger Willy, there's especially the farm-life setting and the emphasis on hard work. Here though, there seems to be a lot less satisfaction in a job well done. The emphasis is more on the incompletion of the task, a barrel I didn't fill, two or three apples I didn't pick upon some bough and the arduousness of it, the lingering ache, the nightmarish quality of the magnified apples appearing and disappearing.

The death imagery is stronger here, toward heaven still, essence of winter sleep, looking through a pane of glass, (through a glass darkly but then face to face?), the lack of certainty about the real nature of death, what form my dreaming was about to take.

He seems to evoke the weariness of someone at the end of a long work-filled life, overtired of the great harvest I myself desired and the small failures and short-comings that are inevitable, went surely to the cider-apple heap as of no worth.

I surmise that what will trouble this sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is are questions about the meaning of his life, the bottom line so to speak after years of hard work. As for the woodchuck, I would guess that he represents nature and the ultimate question is whether he is fundamentally the same as a human, or does death hold different prospects for animal and man. Of course the death of his son certainly had a lot of impact on Frost but I see no reason to connect the woodchuck with his son in this poem. Biographically it's a different story.

Sharon
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Sharon--

I actually like keeping the same thread for two reasons...1) I like the idea of comparing poems throughout the entire discussion 2) I think it might get too confusing for someone who browses through in a couple weeks to catch up on things. I like the way you did it with Apple Picking (same thread but put the title of the poem you are discussing at the top). Just my opinion.

Subject: After Apple-Picking

First, why it is one of my favorites. I generally don't like poetry and have never considered myself very good at interpreting it (I tend to read fiction). But there are certain poets that I really enjoy; Frost is one of them. I have found that the poetry that I do like affects me on some level that I can't really explain. I think it is the mood or the emotional response that it causes in me. When I read it, it just hits me and I am just awed but can't really explain why. “After Apple Picking” and “Stopping by Woods….” both do it for me. I really like the mood and the utter despair (I don't know if it is the right word) of Apple Picking, it just gives me the chills.

On to the poem:

Here though, there seems to be a lot less satisfaction in a job well done. The emphasis is more on the incompletion of the task

Absolutely. I think that is why it is interesting to look at the two poems together. We see (lets assume they are the same speaker) the speaker in the middle of work in “Mowing” and at the end of work in “Apple.” The difference is extraordinary. In this poem it seems that being done is the only thing that matters; he is simply exhausted. In Mowing he is still into the work. It is tough, but he accepts that labor willingly. Here he cannot accept anymore. The labor has pushed him to the end (death). Perhaps this is what the scythe was whispering…..

I talked about this with “Mowing” and I again think that you have to see this poem on some level as a poem about writing. We see the end of the writing cycle. I think this poem expresses the exhaustion Frost must have felt on completing a period of intense writing (I'm not talking about one poem but an extended stretch of writing). He has reached the point where he is unable to continue. That is the incompletion part you mention. Maybe it is not so much as incomplete as it is as finished as it is going to get. Every apple is not picked, but most are and maybe enough are. In the end it doesn't matter because he is done. But I am done with apple-picking now. I love this line. The finality is so, well, final. Again with For I have had too much / Of apple-picking. But there is a part of me that knows that rebirth will occur. Apple picking occurs in the fall and the picker is getting ready to go into the long winter. But spring will come again (even though there is no mention or hint of it in the poem. I think the speaker is too exhausted to even consider it a possibility). But “spring” will come again and when it does Frost will pick up his pen again and the picker will go back out to the fields and will once again desire the great harvest. But again, at this point only the finality of it being done is what the speaker can consider.

I think that sense of finality is only emphasized by the death imagery. It is so strong and so powerful. The fact that this labour to him has led to a symbolic death makes his exhaustion all the more extreme.

the lack of certainty about the real nature of death, “what form my dreaming was about to take.”

This uncertainty seems so spooky to me. I think you are right on.

1FW

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Of course the death of his son certainly had a lot of impact on Frost but I see no reason to connect the woodchuck with his son in this poem. Biographically it's a different story.

I think you are absolutely correct. I agree that as the poem by itself, there is no reason to consider his son and daughter too (I forgot her in my earlier post). But, knowing that he lost two very young children, I can't avoid thinking about them as I read this poem. I don't think they play a crucial part in the interpretation of it and where I see them in this poem, their presence doesn't necessarily make sense to the poem as a whole. But that's why I like this kind of poetry. I think certain lines can have underlying meanings that can be completely independent of the rest of the poem. I'll try to make my case:

I want to look at these lines specifically. They come near the end of the poem and represent a new thought for the speaker. I see them as part of the poem certainly, BUT I also see them as almost a separate poem within the larger one. These lines seem to me like they could stand alone as a separate poem. For the purpose of this post I will read them as such.

There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.


I see children here in the fruit. Words like “cherish” and the careful protecting nature of these lines remind me of the way a parent would think about his or her child. There are thousands of vulnerable children out there and it is our responsibility as parents to protect them.

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.


The consequences of not being careful can be serious. Even a trivial fall that doesn't at first look bad will ruin the apple. I think back to his son who was simply sick like any other child. His child kept getting worse (largely because Frost and his wife did not act on the illness) and eventually died. Again, something so trivial and seemingly harmless can be devastating. Once in the cider heap they are of “no worth.”

One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.


Guilt. He was the protector and he failed. His daughter died only two days old. Perhaps he could do nothing for her. But his son was two years old when he died. They didn't immediately call the doctor that could easily have treated his illness. They made a mistake and Elliot died. I think that would make for very troubling sleep.

Were he not gone,

This line feels like a punch in the stomach every time I read it. Reading the next line ruins that feeling though. But standing alone or at the end of these few lines, this one wows me. I see it as a meditative thought. A what if… How different things would be “were he not gone.” I imagine Frost asked himself this question a lot following the death of his son.

How did I do?

1FW
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Topic: After Apple-Picking

1FW: How did I do?

I think you've added a new dimension to the poem for me. That is the wonderous thing about analysing and discussing poetry or literature - the act of analysing deepens the poem and I'll never read it again without being reminded of what you aptly call "underlying meanings."

1FW: Words like cherish and the careful protecting nature of these lines remind me of the way a parent would think about his or her child.

Yes, I like this thought. The word cherish certainly suggests something more than an apple to us.

went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth


I have problems following you this far. Certainly a dead child is not "of no worth", but I still agree that the idea is present. I don't feel his guilt though, but rather despair, a beaten-down feeling, helplessness in the face of failure. I see him more preoccupied with the nature of death, the woodchuck's, his own and probably his children's than with his own guilt, but I can still see your point.

He certainly sounds much older in this poem than in Mowing if we presume it is the same person.
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Certainly a dead child is not "of no worth", but I still agree that the idea is present. I don't feel his guilt though, but rather despair, a beaten-down feeling, helplessness in the face of failure.

Yeah, I agree about the no worth thing. I am having a hard time verbalizing what I am thinking here, but I think the rest of what you said helps me. I like the despair and beaten-down feeling. I see a speaker who has this feeling possibly having a difficult time seeing the worth of the child's short life. At least at this moment when the despair is weighing so heavy on him. On reflection that speaker may revise that statement, but at the moment he has an inability to see anything positive.

I don't know if that is better.

1FW
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