The scent of apples ripening on trees, and overripe, falling to the street, sometimes to be eaten by one of us neighborhood kids, more often to be thrown like a bumpy baseball at a post or a sign, brings me back to my boyhood, and the days of fall, inevitably also the days of school with their resignation to sadness, and a good winter coming on, though still some months ahead.
We never got up a ladder to pick apples for saving or for cider-making, as the poet Frost recalls doing in this poem, strange as it is, and lovely and sad. It was an all-day affair for the speaker here, thousands and thousands of apples, a great harvest, but he is almost intoxicated with the smell, and the routine, and the daze he falls into. You pick apples, after all, to save in one form or another through the winter, and that’s a strange thing, because just that morning, the speaker had the odd experience of gleaning a thin pane of ice from the water-trough and holding it up against the still feathery grass. He let it melt, and break, and it did so, readily enough, but not before it gave him a presentiment of what kind of dreaming would be his that day.
The poem is full of suggestions, questions, possibilities, and not much by way of answers. The apples that fall, no matter whether they are bruised or not, go to the cider heap, “as of no worth,” and yet cider is cider, not water. His ladder points through the tree toward heaven, he says, and yet his dreaming and his thoughts return him to earth, where the apples fall.