‘All Hallows’ was published in Louise Glück’s first book of poems, The House on Marshland. It is a haunting example of the feelings associated with Halloween, and the day that follows, All Hallows. Throughout this piece, the poet uses engaging language and images to paint a landscape of darkness and loneliness for the reader. It’s easy to connect the barren fields to the mother’s barren womb when the first two stanzas come together.
Explore All Hallows
In the first stanza of ‘All Hallows,’ the speaker focuses on the fields surrounding a farmhouse. They’ve been harvested to their fullest extent, the oxen rest, and the moon rises over the scene. It’s described as “toothed,” a poignant depiction that helps remind the reader of the overall mood the poet is looking for. In the next stanza, she moves inside the home and describes a woman, with her arm extended outside the window, offering payment to the spirits of the world. She calls out to the night, asking her “little one” to come to her. The final line of the poem describes a child creeping from a tree, returning to its mother’s arms.
You can read the full poem here.
In ‘All Hallows,’ the poet engages with themes of loneliness and barrenness. Both of these words refer to the mother’s plight in the second stanza as well as the broader natural landscape that the poem takes place in. The fields are harvested and will remain barren until the next season, suggesting that those who subside off their products might face hardships before that time begins. Inside, the mother is barren. She either can’t have children or lost the only one she had. She uses her most precious resource, seeds, to call back her lost child’s soul from the dead.
Structure and Form
‘All Hallows’ by Louise Glück is a three-stanza poem that’s separated into one stanza of seven lines, one stanza of eight, and one final one-line stanza. The poem is written in free verse, meaning that the lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. Despite this fact, it doesn’t mean that Glück ignored rhyme and rhythm entirely. Close readers can find several good examples of half-rhyme within the text. This refers to words that partially rhyme, usually due to a strong assonant (vowel) or consonant sound.
Glück makes use of several literary devices in ‘All Hallows.’ These include but are not limited to repetition, alliteration, and enjambment. The first of these, repetition, is a broad literary device that is concerned with the moments in which a poet uses a technique, word, phrase, or sound more than once. For example, the last lines of the second stanza with the phrase “Come here” are a good example of anaphora.
Alliteration is another kind of repetition, one that focuses on repeated consonant sounds at the beginning of words. For example, “wife” and “window” in line three of the second stanza and “blue” and “been” in lines three and four of the first stanza.
Enjambment is a formal device, one that occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural ending. For example, the transition between lines two and thee of the first stanza as well as lines three and four of the second stanza. There are many more examples within ‘All Hallows,’ some of which will be noted in the analysis.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
Even now, this landscape is assembling.
The hills darken. The oxen
among cinquefoil, as the toothed moon rises:
In the first stanza of ‘All Hallows,’ the speaker begins by describing a field. It’s assembling into a specific state, one that the second stanza suggests is either “harvest or pestilence.” There is darkness in these lines, perfect for the date on which the poem is meant to be playing out. In the third line, she refers to the “blue yoke” the oxen sleep in. This is the wooden beam used to connect a pair of oxen used to plow a field. Together, they rest, with nothing to plow as the “fields” have been “picked clean.” This suits the season and the mood. It’s suggestive of the fact that there are no more crops to harvest and that from now until the next season, the land will be barren. This is a primal human fear.
In contrast to the plowed fields are the bundles or “sheaves” evenly bound along the roadside. They rest along with the “cinquefoil,” a kind of yellow flower that’s commonly used to relieve a variety of maladies. The last line of the stanza feels sinister, the “toothed moon rises” in the sky. It also adds to the idea that the landscape is “assembling” into another state of being.
This is the barrenness
of harvest or pestilence.
Come here, little one
The barren fields outside the house disappear in the second line as the poet moves indoors to a “wife leaning out the window.” She’s extending her hand, “as in payment.” Within it, the speaker notes, are seeds which in this time and place are like “gold.” This is the payment she has to offer to the spirits in the trees, one of which she hopes will come to her. She calls out to the night sky in a haunting refrain, “Come here / Come here little one.” It’s at this point in the poem that the reader is forced to acknowledge that there might be something supernatural going on in this speaker’s world. Or, at least in the woman’s mind.
The image of barrenness is reflected in the woman’s life. She, too, is barren or unable to have children.
And the soul creeps out of the tree.
In the third stanza, the poem gets more complicated. It’s only one line long, but it adds a great deal to the piece. Glück describes “the soul” of the “little one,” or child, creeping out of the tree outside the woman’s home. This should lead readers to wonder whether she’s called back the soul of a child she lost, one she’s longed for or is simply hallucinating during a particularly dark time of year. Either way, the poem ends on a compelling and disturbing note, with the image of a child “creep[ing]” out of a tree and in reward for seed payment.
Readers who enjoyed ‘All Hallows’ should also consider reading ‘All Hallows’ Eve’ by Dorothea Tanning, ‘Windigo’ by Louise Erdrich, and ‘The Witch’ by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge. The latter, written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s sister, is a short narrative poem in which the speaker, the “witch” of the title, describes a trial she was put on and all the hardships she’s faced. It ends on a similar dark and mysterious note to ‘All Hallows.’ In ‘All Hallows’ Eve,’ Tanning takes the reader through a series of nighttime images, many of which are associated with darkness and pain. ‘Windigo’ is an incredibly creepy poem, one that also refers to a child. In it, the speaker describes the movements of a windigo through the night and its capture of a young child.