After Apple Picking

After Apple Picking #

Adam and Eve lived in paradise; the Garden of Eden. The only commandment was not to eat the apples from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. One day a serpent persuaded Eve that the fruit tasted good and would give her knowledge. When Adam came home she convinced him to try it too. God punished them by exiling them from Paradise and they had to work for their food and suffer pain as they grew older.

After Apple Picking is a poem about reflections of hard manual labour and its detrimental effects on humans. It is also about consciousness and awareness of the human condition.

After Apple-Picking

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.

The speaker is looking back over his life weary of toil and looking forward to rest and respite – sleep - perhaps even death. The image of the ladder transcending to heaven lends an air of hope to the situation. The image of the sheet of ice that distorts his sight and then breaks could refer to our lack of sure knowledge – we see through a glass darkly.

James McAuley, (1917 – 76) an Australian poet, writes similarly about apple harvesting in Tasmania in the 1960’s.

In The Huon Valley

Propped boughs are heavy with apples, Springtime quite forgotten. Pears ripen yellow. The wasp Knows where windfalls lie rotten.

Juices grow rich with sun. These autumn days are still: The glassy river reflects Elm-gold up the hill,

And big white plumes of rushes. Life is full of returns; It isn’t true that one never Profits, never learns:

Something is gathered in, Worth the lifting and stacking; Apples roll through the graders, The sheds are noisy with packing.

JEAN PAGE, University of Lisbon writes on the later poetry of James McAuley:

The more temperate ‘European’ climate of Tasmania in some way matched the images of his early translations. For example, ‘Autumn Ode’ (c 1965) perhaps answers to his early Rilkean translation ‘Autumn’, however, the Autumn images are particularly Tasmanian, reflecting McAuley’s growing insistence on observation informing his art. He also draws upon the vernacular of a simpler, more direct and accurate language style: ‘…Poems that are lucid and mysterious, gracefully simple but full of secrets…’ (A Map of Australian Verse, 204):

We have this last of Autumn: apples ripening
In air sweetened like wine;
In the hopfields, golden walls
Of poplar: things we once took for a sign.
(Collected Poems, 188)

European-style architecture of older settlements in Tasmania, such as the old church clock-tower in ‘St Johns Park, Newtown’ (c 1963). In the next breath, however, the poet distances himself, professing not to care:

Tradition is held there,
Such as a land can own
That hasn’t much of one.
I care—but do I care?
(Collected Poems, 180)

There is in the above words a residual ambivalence—between caring and not caring, but about what? The apparent desire for ‘tradition’ is not adequately met in the old colonial church. In this figuring of loss and absence McAuley may foreshadow the interest in Indigenous tradition that increasingly would inspire Australian writers during the last quarter of the twentieth century.

As in other poems of the period there appears to be a weaning away from the past and from other geographies, resulting in a stoic if uncertain adaptation to the here and now of Australia in the 1960s:

The past is not my law:
Queer, comical or stern,
Our privilege is now.

In the last decade of his life, McAuley’s lyric landscapes became increasingly defined by their particularity in celebrating and naming the seasonally accurate images of his new home in Tasmania.

The bounty of nature can be enjoyed by all; even the wasps.

Propped boughs are heavy with apples,
Springtime quite forgotten.
Pears ripen yellow. The wasp
Knows where windfalls lie rotten

Autumn, the time of old age and reflection, is also a time of reward (profits) – enjoying the accumulations of life, material, spiritual and family.

This particular poem seems to enact the Adamic naming of place, the new.

McAuley’s new poetics aspire to a simplicity of approach and reverence in attitude, a celebration which was not always easily achieved.