In ‘The Pumpkin’ by John Greenleaf Whittier, the poet beautifully celebrates the significance of pumpkins in nature, culture, and human experiences. Through vivid imagery and nostalgic reflections, the poem captures the lush abundance of pumpkin vines, their role in Thanksgiving celebrations, and the joy they bring to childhood memories.
With heartfelt gratitude, the poet elevates the pumpkin pie as a symbol of love and life’s sweetness. Overall, the poem presents a delightful and sentimental exploration of the magic and enduring appeal of this humble fruit in various aspects of life. Here is the poem:
The Pumpkin John Greenleaf WhittierOh, greenly and fair in the lands of the sun, The vines of the gourd and the rich melon run, And the rock and the tree and the cottage enfold, With broad leaves all greenness and blossoms all gold, Like that which o'er Nineveh's prophet once grew, While he waited to know that his warning was true, And longed for the storm-cloud, and listened in vain For the rush of the whirlwind and red fire-rain.On the banks of the Xenil the dark Spanish maidenComes up with the fruit of the tangled vine laden;And the Creole of Cuba laughs out to beholdThrough orange-leaves shining the broad spheres of gold;Yet with dearer delight from his home in the North,On the fields of his harvest the Yankee looks forth,Where crook-necks are coiling and yellow fruit shines,And the sun of September melts down on his vines.Ah! on Thanksgiving day, when from East and from West,From North and from South come the pilgrim and guest,When the gray-haired New Englander sees round his boardThe old broken links of affection restored,When the care-wearied man seeks his mother once more,And the worn matron smiles where the girl smiled before,What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye?What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie?Oh, fruit loved of boyhood! the old days recalling,When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling!When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin,Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!When we laughed round the corn-heap, with hearts all in tune,Our chair a broad pumpkin,—our lantern the moon,Telling tales of the fairy who travelled like steam,In a pumpkin-shell coach, with two rats for her team!Then thanks for thy present! none sweeter or betterE'er smoked from an oven or circled a platter!Fairer hands never wrought at a pastry more fine,Brighter eyes never watched o'er its baking, than thine!And the prayer, which my mouth is too full to express,Swells my heart that thy shadow may never be less,That the days of thy lot may be lengthened below,And the fame of thy worth like a pumpkin-vine grow,And thy life be as sweet, and its last sunset skyGolden-tinted and fair as thy own Pumpkin pie!
Explore The Pumpkin
The poem ‘The Pumpkin’ by John Greenleaf Whittier celebrates the beauty and significance of pumpkins in various cultures and contexts.
The poet starts by praising the lush growth of gourds and melons under the warm sun, evoking images of abundance and fertility. He compares the greenness and golden blossoms of the pumpkin vines to the plant that once grew over the prophet Jonah in Nineveh, waiting for a sign of truth.
The poet then shifts to other regions, mentioning the dark Spanish maiden with fruit-laden vines on the banks of the Xenil and the Cuban Creole who admires golden spheres among orange leaves. However, the poem emphasizes the sentimental value of pumpkins for the New England Yankee, who cherishes the harvest in his northern home, with crook necks and yellow fruit shining under the September sun.
Thanksgiving day is highlighted as a special occasion when pilgrims and guests come together, reviving old family bonds. The pumpkin pie takes center stage during this celebration, reminding everyone of childhood memories, carving faces, and gathering around the corn-heap with a pumpkin lantern. The poem reflects on the pumpkin’s role in evoking nostalgia, uniting generations, and bringing joy during the festive season.
The poet expresses gratitude for the pumpkin pie, praising the hands that prepare it and the eyes that watch over its baking. The warm sentiment extends to wish for the continued prosperity and fame of the pumpkin, hoping that its life will be as sweet as the pie itself. The concluding lines envision a long and golden life for the pumpkin, similar to a sunset sky, reflecting the affection and reverence the poet holds for this simple yet cherished fruit.
Structure and Form
‘The Pumpkin’ by John Greenleaf Whittier is a structured poem consisting of five stanzas, each contributing to the overall theme of celebrating the pumpkin’s significance. The first four stanzas are octaves, containing eight lines each, while the final stanza expands to ten lines. This choice of form enables the poet to establish a consistent and rhythmic flow while allowing the last stanza to carry an extended thought.
In the first four stanzas, Whittier maintains a consistent AABBCCDD rhyming scheme. This deliberate pattern creates a sense of symmetry and musicality, enhancing the poem’s readability and reinforcing its joyful tone. The rhyming scheme also helps tie together the various images and descriptions of pumpkins across different cultures and landscapes, creating a cohesive structure throughout.
However, the poet deviates from the pattern in the final stanza, which adopts an AABBCCDDEE rhyming scheme. This deviation serves as a strategic shift, signifying the culmination of the poem’s message. The additional two lines in this stanza offer more room for the poet to express his gratitude and wishes for the pumpkin’s enduring prosperity and fame.
The structured form of the poem allows Whittier to explore various aspects of the pumpkin’s significance, from its abundance and lush growth in sunny lands to its role in Thanksgiving celebrations. The stanzas act as building blocks, gradually developing the theme while maintaining a consistent rhythm and rhyme that engages the reader.
Overall, the octaves in the first four stanzas and the extended decent in the last stanza demonstrate the poet’s skillful use of form and structure to convey his appreciation for the pumpkin. The AABBCCDD and AABBCCDDEE rhyming schemes add an element of musicality and balance, enhancing the poem’s appeal and making it a delightful celebration of this beloved fruit.
In his poem ‘The Pumpkin,’ John Greenleaf Whittier addresses several themes through vivid imagery and evocative descriptions. One of the prominent themes is the abundance and fertility of pumpkins, portrayed in lines such as “The vines of the gourd and the rich melon run” and “With broad leaves all greenness and blossoms all gold.” This theme celebrates the bountiful growth and prosperity associated with the pumpkin, symbolizing nature’s abundance.
Another theme explored in the poem is the sentimental value of pumpkins during Thanksgiving. Whittier vividly describes the joyous occasion when pilgrims and guests come together and the “old broken links of affection” are restored. The pumpkin pie becomes a nostalgic symbol, calling back memories of childhood carving and laughter around the corn-heap, as seen in lines like “When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling!”
The poem also delves into the cross-cultural significance of pumpkins. Whittier mentions the “dark Spanish maiden” with her fruit-laden vines and the Cuban Creole marveling at golden spheres through orange leaves. This theme highlights the universal appeal of pumpkins, transcending geographical boundaries and finding a place in different cultures.
Furthermore, Whittier explores the theme of gratitude and appreciation for the pumpkin’s role in enriching people’s lives. The poet expresses thanks for the pumpkin pie and praises the hands that craft it. He wishes for the pumpkin’s continued prosperity and fame, as seen in lines like “That the days of thy lot may be lengthened below, And the fame of thy worth like a pumpkin-vine grow.”
Essentially, ‘The Pumpkin’ encapsulates themes of abundance, nostalgia, cross-cultural significance, and gratitude, offering readers a multifaceted appreciation of this humble fruit. Whittier’s use of vivid imagery and varied contexts effectively brings out these themes, making the poem a delightful celebration of the pumpkin’s importance in various aspects of life.
Poetic Techniques and Figurative Language
In ‘The Pumpkin,’ John Greenleaf Whittier employs various poetic techniques and figurative language to vividly convey his message about the significance of pumpkins.
- Imagery: One of the prominent techniques is the use of vivid imagery, painting a picturesque scene of “broad leaves all greenness and blossoms all gold,” which creates a lush and vibrant image of the pumpkin vines.
- Simile: Whittier also uses simile when comparing the pumpkin’s growth to that which once grew over Nineveh’s prophet, creating a powerful association between the fruit and ancient imagery. He writes, “Like that which o’er Nineveh’s prophet once grew,” drawing a connection between the pumpkin and historical allusions.
- Personification: Additionally, the poet utilizes personification, endowing the pumpkin with human-like qualities, such as the longing for the storm-cloud and the whirlwind. He writes, “And longed for the storm-cloud, and listened in vain, For the rush of the whirlwind and red fire-rain,” anthropomorphizing the pumpkin’s anticipation.
- Metaphors: Whittier employs metaphors to enhance the poem’s emotional depth. He describes the Thanksgiving occasion as a time when “the old broken links of affection” are restored, using the broken links as a metaphor for the renewal of family bonds.
- Figurative language is also evident in the poet’s description of carving faces in the pumpkin’s skin, with “wild, ugly faces… glaring out through the dark with a candle within.” This use of personification and imagery evokes a sense of whimsy and nostalgia.
- Alliteration: Whittier’s use of alliteration, such as in “wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling,” adds a musical quality to the poem, making it more engaging and memorable.
Oh, greenly and fair in the lands of the sun,
The vines of the gourd and the rich melon run,
And the rock and the tree and the cottage enfold,
With broad leaves all greenness and blossoms all gold,
Like that which o’er Nineveh’s prophet once grew,
While he waited to know that his warning was true,
And longed for the storm-cloud, and listened in vain
For the rush of the whirlwind and red fire-rain.
John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem, excerpted in the above first stanza, exudes a vivid celebration of nature’s beauty and abundance. Through rich imagery and symbolic references, the poet conveys a message of natural vitality and the human desire for validation and meaning.
The opening lines, “Oh, greenly and fair in the lands of the sun,” immediately draw the reader’s attention to the lushness and attractiveness of the landscape being described. The use of the word “greenly” personifies the land, suggesting it possesses life and vibrancy.
Whittier employs the image of the gourd and melon vines running to further illustrate the fertility of the land. The phrase “rich melon run” evokes a sense of abundance, emphasizing the natural prosperity found in these lands.
The poet’s portrayal of the rock, tree, and cottage being enfolded by the gourd vines and melon vines creates a nurturing and protective atmosphere. This imagery suggests a harmonious coexistence between nature and human habitation, emphasizing the interdependence of both.
The description of “broad leaves all greenness and blossoms all gold” amplifies the radiant beauty of nature, connecting it to themes of growth and vitality. The gold blossoms symbolize the preciousness and value of nature’s offerings.
Whittier draws a parallel between the scene described and an event from ancient history, referring to the growth that once occurred “o’er Nineveh’s prophet.” This allusion to the story of Jonah, the prophet, who waited for the fulfillment of his prophecy, adds a layer of depth and spiritual significance to the poem.
The prophet’s longing for a storm-cloud and the rush of whirlwind and red fire-rain symbolizes a yearning for validation, for the fulfillment of his prophecy. This desire for assurance and truth is a reflection of the human need for purpose and meaning in life.
In stanza one, Whittier weaves together themes of natural abundance, symbiotic relationships between nature and humanity, historical allusion, and existential longing. The poem’s celebration of nature’s beauty and the prophet’s yearning for validation resonates with the readers, touching upon elemental aspects of the human experience. This literary analysis reveals the profound connection between the natural world and human aspirations, inviting readers to contemplate the significance of our place in the vast and vibrant tapestry of existence.
On the banks of the Xenil the dark Spanish maiden
Comes up with the fruit of the tangled vine laden;
And the Creole of Cuba laughs out to behold
Through orange-leaves shining the broad spheres of gold;
Yet with dearer delight from his home in the North,
On the fields of his harvest the Yankee looks forth,
Where crook-necks are coiling and yellow fruit shines,
And the sun of September melts down on his vines.
In the second stanza, the poet explores the theme of cultural diversity and the universal appreciation of nature’s bounty. Through contrasting images of different regions and cultures, Whittier emphasizes the beauty of the natural world and its ability to evoke joy and delight in people from various backgrounds.
The stanza begins with a picturesque scene of a “dark Spanish maiden” on the banks of the Xenil, coming up with fruit from the tangled vine. This image evokes a sense of sensuality and abundance, as the vine is laden with fruit. The use of the word “maiden” suggests purity and innocence, possibly hinting at the natural connection between human life and the fertility of the land.
The mention of the “Creole of Cuba” laughing in delight as they behold the “broad spheres of gold” through orange-leaves showcases the cross-cultural admiration for the natural beauty of the fruit. The golden color and the shining appearance of the fruit symbolize its allure and preciousness.
By mentioning the “Yankee” in the North, Whittier brings in an American perspective, highlighting the similar joy and delight experienced in a different context. The “Yankee” finds “dearer delight” in the fields of his harvest, where “crook-necks are coiling and yellow fruit shines.” This emphasizes the universal connection between people and the land, regardless of geographical location or cultural background.
The mention of the “sun of September” melting down on the vines evokes a sense of warmth and ripeness, suggesting the fulfillment of a fruitful harvest season. This image ties together the themes of nature’s abundance and the joy it brings to people from diverse cultures.
In this stanza, Whittier conveys a message of the unifying power of nature and its ability to evoke delight and appreciation in people from different regions and cultures. The poet celebrates the interconnectedness of humanity and nature, highlighting the shared experience of finding joy and beauty in the natural world, regardless of one’s background. This theme encourages readers to reflect on the universal aspects of the human experience and the common thread that binds us all together through our appreciation of the wonders of the natural world.
Ah! on Thanksgiving day, when from East and from West,
From North and from South come the pilgrim and guest,
When the gray-haired New Englander sees round his board
The old broken links of affection restored,
When the care-wearied man seeks his mother once more,
And the worn matron smiles where the girl smiled before,
What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye?
What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie?
In the third stanza of Whittier’s poem, the poet delves into the theme of nostalgia and the profound emotional connections associated with Thanksgiving Day. The stanza centers around the joyous gathering of people from all directions, symbolizing the reunification of families and the restoration of cherished memories.
The stanza begins with an exclamation, “Ah! on Thanksgiving day,” drawing attention to the significance of this occasion. The poet uses the imagery of people coming “from East and from West, From North and from South,” representing a diverse group of pilgrims and guests converging on this special day.
Whittier introduces the image of a “gray-haired New Englander” sitting at his table, where the “old broken links of affection” are restored. This evokes a sense of family bonding and reconciliation, symbolizing the healing power of Thanksgiving in bringing people together.
The lines that follow portray the care-wearied man seeking his mother and the worn matron smiling where the girl smiled before. This juxtaposition of generations further emphasizes the cyclical nature of life and the continuity of familial love and traditions.
The poet then employs rhetorical questions to heighten the emotional impact of the stanza. “What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye?” prompts readers to reflect on the intense emotions experienced during such gatherings. The answer to the questions lies in the final line, where the poet declares, “What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie?” Here, the pumpkin pie becomes a powerful symbol of nostalgia, evoking memories of past Thanksgivings and happy times shared with loved ones.
Through this stanza, Whittier conveys a message about the timeless and universal significance of Thanksgiving. It serves as a catalyst for reconnecting with family, rekindling affection, and reminiscing about cherished memories.
The stanza’s imagery and rhetorical questions compel readers to ponder the profound emotional impact of this holiday, prompting them to cherish and value the traditions that bind families together. Ultimately, the message is a celebration of love, gratitude, and the enduring power of shared experiences that the humble pumpkin pie symbolizes during Thanksgiving.
Oh, fruit loved of boyhood! the old days recalling,
When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling!
When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin,
Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!
When we laughed round the corn-heap, with hearts all in tune,
Our chair a broad pumpkin,—our lantern the moon,
Telling tales of the fairy who travelled like steam,
In a pumpkin-shell coach, with two rats for her team!
In this fourth stanza, the poet taps into themes of nostalgia, innocence, and the enchanting power of imagination. Through vivid imagery and evocative descriptions, Whittier celebrates the cherished memories of boyhood, emphasizing the pumpkin’s role as a symbol of joy and wonder.
The stanza begins with an exclamation, “Oh, fruit loved of boyhood!” This immediately sets a tone of fond remembrance and emotional attachment to the pumpkin. The poet uses the fruit as a nostalgic trigger, transporting the speaker (and readers) back to the days of childhood.
Whittier describes the activities of the past, such as picking wood-grapes and brown nuts, symbolizing the playful exploration and discovery of nature during boyhood. These images evoke a sense of simplicity and innocence, harkening back to a time of carefree enjoyment.
The poet’s portrayal of carving “wild, ugly faces” in the pumpkin’s skin adds an element of creativity and whimsy. The “candle within” symbolizes the enchantment of childhood imagination, as the carved faces glow in the darkness like magical beings.
The stanza’s description of laughing “round the corn-heap, with hearts all in tune” fosters a sense of camaraderie and shared joy among the children. The pumpkin serves as their chair, and the moon acts as their lantern, further emphasizing the connection between nature and their playful world.
The mention of the fairy traveling “like steam, In a pumpkin-shell coach, with two rats for her team” exemplifies the power of imagination in childhood storytelling. This vivid image of a fantastical journey reinforces the notion that the pumpkin becomes a vessel for dreams and wonder.
Through this stanza, Whittier communicates a message about the enduring magic of childhood memories. The pumpkin becomes a potent symbol, representing the innocence, creativity, and boundless imagination of youth. By reminiscing about boyhood experiences with the pumpkin, the poet invites readers to reflect on their own nostalgic connections to nature and the cherished moments that shaped their lives. The stanza’s portrayal of laughter, storytelling, and playful exploration serves as a poignant reminder of the joy and wonder that can be found in the simplest of things, making the pumpkin a powerful emblem of the human spirit’s capacity for joy and imagination.
Then thanks for thy present! none sweeter or better
E’er smoked from an oven or circled a platter!
Fairer hands never wrought at a pastry more fine,
Brighter eyes never watched o’er its baking, than thine!
And the prayer, which my mouth is too full to express,
Swells my heart that thy shadow may never be less,
That the days of thy lot may be lengthened below,
And the fame of thy worth like a pumpkin-vine grow,
And thy life be as sweet, and its last sunset sky
Golden-tinted and fair as thy own Pumpkin pie!
In the final stanza of Whittier’s poem, the poet expresses gratitude and admiration for the pumpkin pie, elevating it beyond a mere culinary delight to a symbol of love, longevity, and life’s sweetness. The stanza brims with vivid imagery and metaphors, culminating in a heartfelt prayer for the pumpkin pie’s enduring legacy.
The stanza begins with an expression of profound appreciation, thanking the pumpkin pie as a precious gift. The poet compares it to none other, asserting that no pastry has ever been sweeter or better, elevating its significance in the speaker’s life.
Whittier uses imagery to describe the craftsmanship involved in making the pie. The “Fairer hands” and “Brighter eyes” symbolize care, skill, and affection, suggesting that the pie’s creation is a labor of love.
The poet conveys an overwhelming emotional response, stating that the prayer of gratitude is so profound that “my mouth is too full to express” it fully. This sentiment showcases the depth of the speaker’s feelings toward the pumpkin pie.
The stanza further extends the metaphor of the pumpkin pie’s value and importance by comparing it to a vine. The wish for the pie’s “shadow” to never be less and for the “days of thy lot” to be lengthened below illustrates the desire for its continued prosperity and existence.
The metaphor of the pumpkin-vine growing represents the hope for the pie’s worth and reputation to flourish and spread. This implies a desire for the pie’s legacy to extend beyond the immediate present and become renowned and cherished.
In the final lines, the poet extends the metaphor to life itself, expressing the wish for the person represented by the pumpkin pie to have a life as sweet and beautiful as the pie. The image of the “last sunset sky Golden-tinted and fair as thy own Pumpkin pie” adds a touch of romance and nostalgia, suggesting that life’s final moments should be as glorious and memorable as the enjoyment of a delicious pumpkin pie.
Through this final stanza, Whittier elevates the pumpkin pie to a symbol of love, longevity, and the beauty of life. The poem’s metaphorical language and emotional depth invite readers to reflect on the significance of simple pleasures and the enduring connections between food, gratitude, and the joys of life. The stanza’s concluding lines leave readers with a lasting impression of the pumpkin pie as a powerful emblem of the human capacity for love, appreciation, and the celebration of life’s sweetness.
The tone in ‘The Pumpkin’ is celebratory and nostalgic, with a sense of reverence and admiration for the significance of pumpkins in various aspects of life.
The poem is so-titled because the central theme revolves around the pumpkin’s importance, symbolism, and associations with nature, Thanksgiving, and childhood memories.
The poem triggers feelings of warmth, joy, and a sense of belonging as it evokes memories of Thanksgiving gatherings, childhood innocence, and the beauty of nature.
Those of you who enjoyed this poem by John Greenleaf Whittier may also wish to explore the following other poems:
- ‘Before The Cask of Wine’ by Li Bai – is a beautiful lyric that emphasizes enjoying one’s youthful hours to the fullest as one can’t savor those moments in old age.
- ‘A Song for New Year’s Eve’ by William Cullen Bryant – discusses themes of change, memory, and hope.
- ‘A Rhyme for Halloween’ by Maurice Kilwein Guevara – captures the ethereal macabre essence of the holiday in a poem that is as captivating as it is haunting.