‘Theme in Yellow’ is a short poem by Carl Sandburg published in his collection ‘Chicago Poems’ under the title “Fogs and Fire” in 1916. It is written from the perspective of a ‘pumpkin,’ and describes how it turns into a Jack-O-Lantern during Halloween. The poem is titled to refer to the prevalent color of the autumn season, which fills the lands yellow.
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Summary of Theme in Yellow
Carl Sandburg’s poem ‘Theme in Yellow’ is written in the first-person narrative of the pumpkin. It is a poem about pumpkins and what a pumpkin sees on Halloween night. The speaker tells us the steady growth of pumpkin from the yellow balls to the matured orange/tawny into its Jack-o-lantern role during Halloween. When Halloween comes around, the children join hands and sing ghost songs around the pumpkin. Though by now it is not the pumpkin seen in the hills but a jack-o-lantern with “terrible teeth,” they are not afraid of it. This response of the children through the perspective of the Pumpkin gives a positive approach to both autumn and Halloween. Halloween isn’t just what the pumpkin admires but colorful leaves and the beauty of October. The speaker and the poem stand as the voice of the pumpkins that become jack-o-lanterns when Halloween begins.
You can read the full poem here.
Form/Structure of Theme in Yellow
‘Theme in Yellow’ is written in fifteen lines arranged into a single stanza. The poem neither follows a stanza form or a metrical structure. It is written in free verse. It is conversational in style, written in the first-person perspective of the pumpkin-speaker. The choice of words makes the poem sound informal and fun. The poem is light-spirited and does not follow any rhyme scheme. The lines are also short and to the point that it well suits the pumpkin-speaker.
Literary /Poetic Techniques in Theme in Yellow
Carl Sandburg in his poem ‘Theme in Yellow’ uses a range of poetic/literary devices like enjambment, assonance, imagery, metaphor, and personification, etc.
Sandburg is known for his style of bringing in the ‘conversational tone’ often in his poetry. This poem ‘Theme in Yellow’ is also written in the conversational tone, like his other poems “Fog” and “Chicago“. This often leads to ‘enjambed’ sentences in the poem. The poet has allowed the sentences to freely run to more than one line in the poem.
Sandburg’s other unique specialty is his employment of ‘common folks language’ or ‘idiomatic phrasing.’ In lines 6-11, “children join hands and circle round me singing ghost songs” he used the simple language which could be recognized by all readers to capture the “last of October”. This helps to visualize the scenery in a way that everyday folks do. Though the poet tries to keep the conversation plain and simple, poetic language is used to describe the setting of the poem. The speaker says “I spot the hills with yellow balls in autumn” instead of saying “I look yellow on the hills.” Even though poetic in construction, it remains simple in terms of meaning.
In ‘Theme in Yellow’ the pumpkin is personified with human attributes. It speaks, retrospect’s the season of autumn and Halloween. Using the first-person pronouns like “I” and “me” is a unique way of employing ‘personification’ by Carl Sandburg.
A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable, representing symbolically. The poem itself is a symbolic representation of autumn and Halloween. The title of the poem “Theme in Yellow” itself a symbolic representation of the season in which the shades of yellow are the dominant color. It looks like the city has themed yellow with the changing colors of leaves and pumpkin. Even the pumpkin looks like a “yellow ball” before it changes into the shades of “Orange and tawny gold clusters”.
When reading this poem, it is easy to visualize the hills filled with yellow balls, which turn out to be pumpkins as days passed. Then, it is the “last of October” and the season of Halloween and the children singing songs, and dancing around a pumpkin, which is now a jack-o-lantern. The pumpkin speaker seems to be happy for though he has those terrible teeth, the children are not afraid of him.
Analysis of Theme in Yellow
Pumpkins turned jack-o’-lantern is a common thing during Halloween. No one ever bothered care about what it would be feeling, when carved into a creepy creature from a harmless pumpkin. Here, in this poem, Sandburg tries to reciprocate the feeling of the pumpkin in an optimistic way, through the perspective of the Pumpkin itself.
I spot the hills
( . . . )
And I am called pumpkins.
The poem ‘Theme in Yellow’ begins with the Speaker, the pumpkin, introduces the way in which grows to be called a pumpkin. It brings in the vision of changing season and colors, as it grows. While observing the hills, the pumpkins look like yellow balls which mark the beginning of the season. As the days pass, it starts to gain the ‘orange and tawny gold’ symbolizing its ripened state, it lightens grasslands turned cornfields.
On the last of October
( . . . )
And love to the harvest moon;
Now, in line 6, of the poem ‘Theme in Yellow’ we come to the end of October, marking the end of autumn and the begging of Halloween. Halloween is celebrated by many Americans as a tradition by dressing in costumes and telling tales of witches and ghosts. Pumpkins are carved into glowering jack-o’-lanterns. In the further lines, the pumpkin observes how the children circle around him when the dusk falls. They sing happy songs of the harvest to the moon and the stories of ghosts. At this time the pumpkin has turned to be a jack-o’-lantern, the symbol of Halloween.
I am a jack-o’-lantern
( . . . )
I am fooling.
The final lines of the poem ‘Theme in Yellow’ gives the perspective of the pumpkin turned Jack-O’-Lantern. Now it has terrible teeth, but as the previous lines suggest the children are circling around singing songs. So, it is evident that they are not afraid of the pumpkin despite its terrible teeth. It looks like the Pumpkin had been worrying about what the children would think of him. The final line of the poem is a reassurance that the children know that the pumpkin is fooling and there is no need for them to be afraid of it.
About Carl Sandburg
Carl Sandburg lived between 1878 and 1967 was an American poet, biographer, journalist, and editor. He has done a notable contribution to America’s Poetry. His reputation as a poet began with the publication of Chicago Poems (1916). He had served as secretary to Emil Seidel, Milwaukee’s Socialist mayor from 1910 to 1912 before he moved to Chicago. He has in total received three Pulitzer Prizes – Two for poetry, and another for the publication of Abraham Lincoln: The War Years (1939). Critics often coined Sandburg as the “voice of America singing”, for he loved to write in the language of ordinary people, especially of the rural folks.