by Christina Rossetti
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 teazed 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 thro' 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 my 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.
This is one of those poems that is very tough to crack, in the sense that every interpretation that one finds seems to fall short of what the poem actually gives us, and only cover part of the evidence of the poem. A very common interpretation reads it as the tale of a 'fallen woman' -- but the narrator is not mocked by the neighbors at any point for plucking early, as one would expect, but for not having a basketful of apples, and, indeed, the narrator herself finds the bare fact of her neighbor's piled-up apples as itself 'like a jeer'. I've yet to see an interpretation of the poem that did justice to the gap between love and its fruition, which is quite clearly an element of the poem. And, of course, there are the things that are not said, with which one has to be careful -- are they implied despite being not said or not said because they are not true? For instance, it's very easy to read the first stanza as suggesting that there are no apples because the narrator plucked the blossoms -- but it's not actually said. One could perhaps also read it as the tree having immense promise -- so many blossoms it could spare some for decoration -- and yet none of it being fulfilled when the time came, for reasons unknown.
Here is something to which I would not commit myself to treating as a true interpretation, but is worthwhile for at least seeing things in the poem that are otherwise easily missed, just because of assumptions we make that hide some of the features: read the poem as if 'apples' meant 'children' or 'domestic joys', and see what pops up.