Student Portal: “Apple Trees” by Samuel Allen

“The Apple Trees in Sussex”
by Samuel W. Allen
Samuel W. Allen’s (1917-2015) poetic work is deeply rooted in the heritage of Black people, specifically in the oral tradition and African survival. Allen is known for merging African and African American culture in his poetry. His devotion to the fight for freedom in Black affairs, both literary and political, put his poetry at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement. As you watch Allen’s performance and read his poem below, think about what qualifies as “civilized” or “savage.” What kind of characteristics do you assign to these words?

Samuel Allen reads “The Apple Trees in Sussex”

The Apple Trees in Sussex

	I did not climb the apple trees in Sussex
	or wait upon the queen in London town 
	they courted me in sweltering Mississippi 
	with birch and thong to bring the cotton down

For I have come 
not to bring peace
but your heads in a block, my lovelies, 
cried the captain
	of the slaver, standing
	out of Liverpool, plying 
	between Guinea 
	and the land of the glorious free
	the abiding place of the sullen, querulous slave; 
and Montaigne reminds us that stout and aging ladies, 
abandoned but not long forlorn,
plucked the eyes of their young male chattel 
to shepherd a crouched submission
into their care

Locked in the dungeon of those gutted years, doomed 
	in time 
pinned in the silent back rooms of unhindered desire, 
to each his stock of dark rolling pride, 
no seer to serve as overseer, who served as his own breeder
fertilizing the stunned flesh feeded the rows of cotton 
deep in the blistering hell of Mississippi; 
by the Delta they descended down
	into the pit
forsaken by Shango and Damballah, down
	to the fist and the terror, down
	to the whip and the whim
	to the blazing heat of the field by day
	and the raging lust of the big house by night and all pale 
		and ravenous things. 

	I did not climb the apple trees in Sussex 
	I’ll never hail the Queen in London town
	I spent eternity in Mississippi 
	whose grace was death
		to bring the cotton down.

Reader Response Questions

1. Write about a time in which you felt you were invisible to someone either at home or at school. You wanted to be seen, heard, and valued but you were not. How did it make you feel?

2. Do you ever feel a need to change your behavior around certain people? Who do you feel you need to change for and why?

History and Culture

1. What historical time period does this poem describe?

2. Through lines such as “I did not climb the apple trees in Sussex / or wait upon the queen in London town,” and “the raging lust of the big house by night and all pale / and ravenous things,” Allen juxtaposes the civility and savagery of Colonial America. What kind of connections can you make between this poem and what you have learned so far in school about Colonial American history?

3. Allen references London and Mississippi as the primary locations within the poem. What are the historical and cultural implications of each setting?

4. In the poem, the speaker cries out to African Gods, Shango God of Thunder and Damballah Sky Father and Creator of All Life. Why does the speaker feel that they have been forsaken by their gods? What religious icons replaced their gods?

Poet’s Craft and Structure


1. Irony is a literary device which contrasts the expectations for a given situation against the actual reality. Allen uses irony to expose colonial acts of savagery. Identify and explain two or more lines from the poem that disrupt the cultural perceptions of Colonial America. How does Allen expose a culture of violence and brutality?

2. Understatement is a figure of speech used intentionally to make a situation seem less extreme or important than it truly is. The first few lines of the poem, “I did not climb the apple trees in Sussex or wait upon the Queen in London town,” are examples of understatement. What is the significance of these actions and the implications of the speaker’s inability to do them?


1. Go through the poem and underline all of the action verbs. How do they express the power dynamics within the poem?

2. How is the perspective of the poem unique to the speaker? What kind of words does Allen use to indicate the circumstances of the speaker?


1. In creating the structure of the poem, Allen utilized iambic pentameter and free verse. Iambic pentameter refers to a verse consisting of five metrical feet that each consist of one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable while lines of free verse are written without rhyme or regular meter. Notice how Allen uses iambic pentameter to write about London and free verse to write about Mississippi. What is the effect of alternating between iambic pentameter and free verse? Why did he choose to assign these structures to these specific locations?

Reading and Writing Connections

1. Why is “The Apple Trees in Sussex” set in Mississippi? Allen identifies Mississippi as “the worst state.” What does he mean by this? Read the timeline in the Furious Flower Archive and list events that you have studied from the Civil Rights Movement and identify those that occurred specifically in Mississippi.


2. What historical misconception do you feel passionately about? Alternating the poetic forms of iambic pentameter and free verse, write a poem that exposes the misconceptions through the lens of that historical perspective.