In ‘Macklin’s Jack O’Lantern,’ the poet creates an interesting multi-layered scene in which a speaker, likely a young child, describing the changing nature of his perceptions in regards to a pumpkin. The atmosphere is one of the most important techniques at work in this poem. The poet skillfully manipulates it from the first eight lines to the second eight. By the end, the humorous pumpkin carving has turned into something sinister feeling.
Explore Macklin's Jack O'Lantern
In the first part of ‘Macklin’s Jack O’Lantern,’ the speaker describes the lighthearted act of carving a pumpkin. At first, it’s all fun and games with Macklin carving out eyes, a nose, and thirteen teeth. But, everything changes when he draws the curtains and casts the room into darkness. The speaker starts to feel fear, especially after Macklin puts a candle in the pumpkin, and the speaker can see Jack’s features on the wall. His eyes, nose, and thirteen teeth create terrifying shadows on the wall. The poem ends with the speaker asking to be let out of the room.
You can read the full poem here.
Speaker and Language
Throughout this poem, the poet, David McCord, used simple and direct language, one feature that helps the reader determine that the speaker is likely quite young. While it’s not confirmed, it seems likely that the speaker is a school-age boy. This is backed up by the speaker’s choice to call Macklin “Mr. Macklin,” something that doesn’t happen in the title. The child’s fear over the change in atmosphere is another indicator that they’re young. Towards the end of the poem, the speaker uses the word “horrorful,” a nonce word used in this situation to help describe the scene. One might also suggest that this is a child’s use of language.
Structure and Form
‘Macklin’s Jack O’Lantern’ By David McCord is a sixteen-line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. The lines follow a simple rhyme scheme of ABABCDCD and so on, changing end sounds as the poem progresses. The meter is also quite regular. Almost every line contains eight syllables, meaning they are written in tetrameter. The stresses change but are fairly consistent throughout most of the poem.
In ‘Macklin’s Jack O’Lantern’ McCord makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to enjambment, caesura, and alliteration. The latter is a type of repetition that’s focused on the use and reuse of the same consonant sounds at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “horrorful” and “Halloween” in lines twelve and thirteen as well as “creepy crawl” in line thirteen.
Enjambment is a common formal device, one that occurs when the poet cuts off a line before the natural conclusion of a phrase or sentence—for example, the transition between lines one and two as well as lines five and six.
Caesurae are pauses in the middle of the lines. They can occur due to the poet’s use of punctuation or meter. For example, line eight reads, “Dies laughing! O what fun it is.” Line sixteen is another good example. It reads, “O Mr. Macklin! where’s the door?”
Lines 1- 8
Mr. Macklin takes his knife
And carves the yellow pumpkin face:
Three holes bring eyes and nose to life,
Dies laughing! O what fun it is
In the first lines of ‘Macklin’s Jack O’Lantern,’ the speaker begins by describing the first steps that Macklin takes in the creation of his Jack o’lantern. He picks up a knife and carves the “yellow pumping face.” The eyes and nose bring it to life, just as one would want. The speaker takes note of the detail that Macklin put into his creation. There are thirteen teeth in the pumpkin’s mouth, not an easy feat to achieve. These first lines are more descriptive than anything else. They’re setting the scene for the more emotive lines that follow.
In the next four lines, Mr. Macklin, the pumpkins carver, makes everyone smile by pitting his own “corn-cob pipe” into the pumpkin’s mouth. Everyone “Dies laughing,” the speaker says. Together, whoever “they” are, are having a wonderful time. The eighth line of this section of the poem is enjambment, meaning that the reader has to go down to the ninth line to find out what happens next. Between these lines, there is what is known as a volta, Italian for “turn.” This means that the second half of the poem is distinctly different than the first in some fundamental ways.
Till Mr. Macklin draws the shade
And lights the candle in Jack’s skull.
Then all the inside dark is made
O Mr. Macklin! where’s the door?
Everything changes when Mr. Macklin “draws the shade” and darkens the room. No longer are the speaker and those around him laughing. Instead, Macklin has created a “horroful” scene, one that freaks out those looking on. He puts a candle in the pumpkin, and new shadows pop up all around them, those cast by the shapes cut into the Jack o’lantern. His face is “dancing on the wall,” the speaker says.
This terrifying image is meant to contrast with those in the first eight lines. Now the speaker is scared, and he asks Mr. Macklin for the door so that he might leave the room before something terrible happens. Readers should take note of the use of parallelism in the eighth and sixteenth lines of ‘Macklin’s Jack O’Lantern.’
Readers who enjoyed ‘Macklin’s Jack O’Lantern’ should also consider reading some other Halloween-themed poetic works. For example, ‘All Hallows Eve’ by Dorothea Tanning, ‘All Hallows’ by Louise Glück, and ‘Windigo’ by Louise Erdrich. While the latter is not based around the holiday, it is a perfect companion piece for a spooking evening. ‘All Hallows’ Eve’ is a disturbing, multilayered poem that discusses the effects and terrors of domestic abuse. The poet uses violent images to describe what kind of relationship the newlywed couple who features in this poem has. ‘All Hallows’ is a short, disturbing poem in which the poet discusses barrenness, childbearing, and the Halloween season.