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.