Human on My Faithless Arm, Episode 5: After Apple-picking
Welcome to Episode 5 of Human on My Faithless Arm, a series in which I recite from memory the same poems my infant daughter, Auden, hears me recite each night as lullabies.
It is reductive to put it this way, because it so much more than this, but the poem featured in Episode 4, Sylvia Plath’s “Blackberrying,” is a poem about picking fruit. The same can be said of the poem I will recite in a moment, a poem which many consider the best short lyric by Robert Frost. I hardly need say that in that category the competition is very stiff.
Neither Plath nor Frost is particularly interested in low-hanging fruit, and in “Blackberrying,” as in “After Apple-picking,” the stakes in are incredibly high. It shouldn’t surprise me that two such powerful American verbal artists as Plath and Frost would bring their best tools to bear in poems that address overwhelming plenitude and choice, poems that almost inadvertently bring us to the brink of the world.
Listen to episode 5 here:
The text of “After Apple-picking” can be found here.
Please do read Frost’s poem—every day from now on. If my recitation leads you to the poem, I’ll consider my job here well done.
In my introduction I say some things about how measure functions in verse composition, and I cite one passage in particular. Lines 9-12 of “After Apple-picking” constitute one of the best examples of iambic pentameter in the American verse tradition:
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.
Here is the perfect test-case for what Frost meant when he talked about how in the best verse sentences played both with and against the beat of the measure.
You can read some expert commentary on Frost’s poem—by people much wiser than I, including the brilliant Richard Poirier and Reuben Brower—here.
Please join me for Episode 6 of Human on My Faithless Arm, in which I will introduce and recite a portion of a chorus from Seamus Heaney’s play The Cure at Troy, a version of Sophocles’s Philoctetes, and one of the most stirring poems composed in English in the last fifty years.
Daniel Bosch is Lecturer in English at Emory University and Senior Editor of Berfrois.