In early autumn the apple orchards come alive with people and sounds. The farmers are picking, peeling, and processing apples into everything from apple pies to apple sauce. Families swarm the apple trees with their baskets looking for the best Honeycrisp and Macintosh. The sound of children playing is blended with the occasional barking dog, or the low rumble of the old Ferguson Orchard tractor pulling a wagon up and down the rows.
Standing in the parking lot, you can see the pumpkins and hay bales that remind you that October is near. At the farmstand, the aroma from the cider’s cinnamon stick blends with the sweet smell of cider donuts.
The apple orchard is an amazing sensory experience. This fact hasn’t been lost on the poets. From the budding apple tree to the fall harvest, each moment of an apple’s life can find its way into verse. Below are four poems from four poets that will take you from the apple blossom to the apple harvest.
“Apple-Trees” by Jessie Belle Rittenhouse Scollard
Jessie Belle Rittenhouse Scollard (1869 – 1948) wrote the short poem “Apple-Trees” in 1921. In this poem, she focuses on the experience of being around apple trees.
My childhood held a fairy sight— A thousand apple-trees, All pink and white for my delight And humming with the bees. They grew upon a green hillside, They sweetened all the air, They spread a tent of blossoms wide For my pavilion there. (Excerpt from “Apple-Trees”)
Although this poem highlights the springtime experience with an apple tree, it still highlights the sensory experience of the tree.
“An Apple Gathering” by Christina Rossetti
This poem by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) is another poem that highlights the apple tree’s connection to the human experience. In this poem, we move from spring flowers to fall harvests.
I plucked pink blossoms from mine apple-tree And wore them all that evening in my hair: Then in due season when I went to see I found no apples there. With dangling basket all along the grass As I had come I went the selfsame track: My neighbours mocked me while they saw me pass So empty-handed back. Lilian and Lilias smiled in trudging by, Their heaped-up basket teased me like a jeer; Sweet-voiced they sang beneath the sunset sky, Their mother's home was near. Plump Gertrude passed me with her basket full, A stronger hand than hers helped it along; A voice talked with her through the shadows cool More sweet to me than song. Ah Willie, Willie, was my love less worth Than apples with their green leaves piled above? I counted rosiest apples on the earth Of far less worth than love. So once it was with me you stooped to talk Laughing and listening in this very lane: To think that by this way we used to walk We shall not walk again! I let me neighbours pass me, ones and twos And groups; the latest said the night grew chill, And hastened: but I loitered, while the dews Fell fast I loitered still.
What I like about this poem is how it talks about the impact of picking apple blossoms on the growth of the apple. Although it is not the main point of the poem, I do appreciate the subtle nod to the unintended impact that human behavior on the environment.
The main question posed by the poet is what is an apple’s relative worth versus that of love. The line “Was my love less worth/Then apples with their green leaves piles above?” really brings this question home. I also begin to wonder about what happened to Willie.
“After Apple Picking” by Robert Frost
Finally, we can’t talk about apples and the apple harvest without talking about Robert Frost. In Frost’s “After Apple Picking” we join an apple harvester at the end of a hard day’s work.
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.
Perhaps what I enjoy the most about this poem is how Frost moves between the physical discomfort someone might feel after harvesting apples all day, to something deeper in his contemplations about rest.
One final apple-related poem I want to mention is “A Short History of the Apple” by Dorianne Laux. This poem walks the reader through the role that the apple has had in the human experience. Laux starts by reminding us of Eve’s first encounter with the apple and then ends with the development of the Winter Banana Apple. You can read the complete poem here.
- Jessie Belle Rittenhouse Scollard’s “Apple-tree” was first published in her book The Lifted Cup. That book is available for download at ebooksread.com
- Christina Rossetti’s “An Apple Gathering” was first published in her book Goblin Market and other Poems.
- Robert Frost’s “After Apple Picking was first published in his book North of Boston.
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Marvellous! As you know I live in Northern Ireland and I actually live in what we know as the Orchard County, the County of Armagh. I was born in the City of Armagh right by the old cathedral.
So here too the apples are in abundance and the scent of apples is everywhere. That reminds me I must call into a
local farmer to stock up in apple juice.
You also mention an old Ferguson tractor. George ‘Harry’ Ferguson was born here in NI in Dromore in the next county, County Down, not many miles from where I live. I often look at maps of the east coast of your country and see so many town names that originate on this side of the Atlantic! Sorry, getting carried away!
Frost’s poem is superb, I love it. Enjoy what’s left of your Sunday.
Hi Ashley, How interesting that the Ferguson tractor was “born” down the road from your place! I think a majority of the names for places over here originated on your side of the Atlantic. Vermont’s capital, Montpelier, has its sister city in France. Thanks so much for your comment, and I hope you are able to get the apple juice before it sells out.
Your intro and the poems made me smile and remember going apple picking with my family. Wonderful times, along with pumpkin picking. I think apples got a bad deal with the craze of “pumpkin spice.” I associate those flavors more with apple pies — which I eat much more of than pumpkin pies. But, of course, both come readily to mind with autumn.
Hi Dave, thanks so much for the comment. I haven’t been to an apple orchard since last year, but the experience was still fresh in my mind. I would have to say that I am more of an apple pie fan than a pumpkin pie fan. Although, I wouldn’t turn down either if they were offered! Thanks again for the comment!
Wonderful writing, Mark–both the poets’ you’ve quoted and your own. I love Frost’s work (who doesn’t?) but I hadn’t read the other pieces. Thanks for introducing me to them. I’m reminded of an apple tree which grew behind the farmhouse in which I was raised. It was sickly and barren for so many years, then…suddenly…small green apples appeared for three or four seasons. And then, just as abruptly, it resumed its strange, sad, dormant existence. It’s a bittersweet memory–one which I’ve written about in my blog–yet it holds a special place in my heart. Thanks for reminding me of the simple beauty of the apple tree. 🙂
Hi Mike, thanks for the wonderful comment. It is interesting to hear about all the ways people are connected to apple trees, or really nature in general. I wonder what was going on with the tree you mentioned. I know that we have a few on the edges of our yard that don’t seem to produce fruit unless they are trimmed annually. I wonder if that was what was happening. Or, maybe it was just old and tired. Not sure if trees get old and tired, but it might make sense. Thanks again for the comment! Talk soon.
Mark, reading your introduction to this post was pure joy! What a great meditation – I was right there.
I’ll have a look for some apple poems.
Hi Lesley, I am glad you enjoyed the post! I am looking forward to reading any poems you might find. Have a great day!
Thank you, Mark, and you too! 🙂
These poems remind me of childhood 🙂 Thank you for sharing, love this time of year!
So glad you enjoyed these! This time of year is truly special. Thanks for adding to the conversation!
I love everything about apples, and think your post is just beautiful.
I have a Baldwin apple tree in my yard that I’ve featured on my blog. Baldwins are only supposed to fruit every other year, but for the second year in a row, it has given tons of apples. Not sure why, especially since we don’t put any chemicals on it. It just does its own thing…Apple pie, apple cake, apple sauce, apple with chicken—I’ve made them all in the last few weeks!
Regards from Johnny Appleseed’s birth area,
That seems like quite the amazing harvest. A friend of mine just made apple butter. I haven’t had that in years. So much you can do with apples. Thanks for sharing your story!
I loved the ‘Apple-Trees’! Thanks so much!
Hi Adele, I am glad you enjoyed the poems this week! There are some many to choose from and the run the spectrum of styles and focus. These seemed to fit nicely together. Thanks for the comment!
I enjoyed your apple picking post! It brought back some good memories of apple picking in Pennsylvania where I grew up. This was a great line…
…The historyof apples in each starry core,
I was surprised at how many poems are out there about apples. I guess it just shows how much a part of our life they are. Thanks again for the comment and support!
You are welcome!