"After Apple-Picking" is a dream vision, and from the outset it proposes that only labor can penetrate to the essential facts of natural life. These include, in this case, the discovery of the precarious balances whenever one season shifts to another, the exhaustions of the body, and the possible consequences of "falling," which are blemish and decay. When the penetration of "facts" or of matter occurs through labor, the laborer, who may also be the poet, becomes vaguely aware that what had before seemed solid and unmalleable is also part of a collective "dream" and partakes of myth.
It is basically a pastoral poem, appearing first in the collection of poems titled ‘North of Boston’. The poem presents the simple and uncomplicated life of a farmer who has worked very hard the entire day picking up apples. Frost dramatizes nature by giving it an essence and meaning of its own. It is a benefactor because it gives life and sustenance to man. The farmer speaks of the self-satisfaction which he gets in his work that is solely dependent upon Nature. He recreates in a beautiful way the soothing bounty of Nature - the warmth of the sun, the air filled with the scent of apples while the ladder sticks through a tree as the farmer goes on picking apples and dropping them carefully into the empty barrels. His long day of hard-work is slowly drawing to an end, and it is not surprising that he is feeling very tired. The apples symbolize the ripeness and richness of nature and also the never ending love which a farmer has for his work.
Pastoral poetry flourished most vigorously in the age of Theocritus and Virgil among the ancients, and during the Renaissance in modern times. But with the passing of time pastoral poetry in England lost its naturalness and simplicity, and became artificial and conventional. The unhappy shepherd, the fair shepherdess, the wandering flock, the daisies and violets, the dance on the village green, the flowery wreath, and the oaten pipe, all came to be regarded as the essential part of the pastoral, and were used by one poet after another, as the conventional decor of their poems. However, Frost's poetry is entirely free from such conventional and artificial elements. He has succeeded in capturing the simplicity and naturalness of the earliest Greek masters of this form. The greatness of Frost as a pastoral poet has been universally recognized. The Onset, An Old Man's Winter Night, Out, Out, etc. all deal with incidents and characters taken from rural life, but these events and characters are invested with a rich symbolic significance. The rural world holds the centre of his attention, but it is made to imply and suggest much more.
On the simplest narrative level, the poem describes how, after a strenuous day of apple-picking, the speaker dreams dreams in which his previous activities return to him 'magnified', blurred and distorted by memory and sleep. On a deeper level, however, it presents us with an experience in which the world of normal consciousness and the world that lies beyond it meet and mingle. 'I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight', says the narrator, and this strangeness, the 'essence of winter sleep', is something he shares with the reader. The dreamy confusion of the rhythm, the curiously 'echoing' effect of the irregular, unpredictable rhyme scheme, the mixing of tenses, tones, and senses, the hypnotic repetition of sensory detail: all these things promote a transformation of reality that comes, paradoxically, from a close observation of the real, its shape, weight, and fragrance, rather than any attempt to soar above it –
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
As usual, in this poem Frost hovers between the daylight world of commonsense reality and the dream world of possibility, the voices of sense and of song, the visions of the pragmatist and the prophet, the compulsions of the road and the seductions of the woods. The apple-picker sets out wakefully to accomplish what he has all along been doing in a daze, unconsciously - to make metaphors and to generalize on his experience - the result is a tangle of confusions. Obviously, the "woodchuck" could not "say" anything, and its capacity to make a metaphoric discrimination between its own and human sleep is rendered comic by the speaker's ascription to himself of the power only to "describe" the coming on of sleep.
In his overtired state the apple-picker might indeed want a sleep equivalent to the hibernation of a woodchuck rather than a "human sleep." His sleep will be human precisely because it will be a disturbed, dream- and myth-ridden sleep. Human sleep is more than animal sleep for the very reason that it is bothered by memories of what it means to pick apples. After that famous picking in the Garden of Eden, human life, awake or sleeping, has been a dream, and words are compacted of the myths we dream of about the fall and redemption of souls.