A Rhyme for Halloween

Maurice Kilwein Guevara

‘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.

Maurice Kilwein Guevara

Nationality: American

Maurice Kilwein Guevara is a Columbian-born American poet, playwright, and actor.

His poetry often explores the experiences of immigrants in mid-America.

Key Poem Information

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Central Message: Halloween is a time of festive morbidity

Speaker: A supernatural observer

Emotions Evoked: Amusement, Disgust, Fear

Poetic Form: Ballad

Time Period: 20th Century

Maurice Kilwein Guevara's poem is a fantastical ode to the night of Halloween that utilizes an enchanting array of imagery and figurative language to create a foreboding but alluring scene.

‘A Rhyme for Halloween’ delights in exploring the disquieting liminal space between reality and the paranormal. Colombian poet Maurice Kilwein Guevara uses magical realism to conjure up an atmosphere that blurs the lines dividing those two worlds entirely.

Resulting in a poem that takes advantage of the potent mix of superstition, legends, and base fears that can unwillingly intoxicate even the most rational person’s mind on Halloween night. Even the speaker of the poem — who serves as the guide through this phantasmagoria — appears to be a creature of supernatural origin. Yet, for all its bizarre and unnerving imagery, the poem offers a rather entertainingly macabre journey that toys with the reader’s perception.


‘A Rhyme for Halloween’ by Maurice Kilwein Guevara is a spooky poem that follows the surreal point of view of a ghoulish speaker on Halloween night.

‘A Rhyme for Halloween’ unfolds as a creepy observation of Halloween night — as seen through the candlelit eyes of the speaker. The first stanza opens with a fantastical description of them swinging down the branches of their perch and through its “red leaves” toward a nearby town.

Once there they reveal all the different activities the townspeople are engaged in: “I hear the undertaker make love in the heather; / The candy maker, poor fellow, is under the weather.” They even see a group of trick-or-treaters who appear not as children but the animals they wander disguised as: “Skunk, moose, raccoon, they go to the doors in threes.” This is followed by another surreal scene of Halloween revelry when a man named Baruch Spinoza appears with the butcher costumed together as the tail and trunk “of a beast who dances in circles for beer.”

The next three stanzas shift away from Halloween’s more festive aspects toward its more morbid side. The speaker relates a small tale about the “martyr of our fair town” who was accused of being a witch — but ironically “wasn’t a witch because she could drown.” The following stanza offers a grisly “vision of her, bobbing up through the dark” surface of the water, mouth agape when “a moth flies out and lands in her hair.”

The poem ends with more familiar images of Halloween that are made frightening by the speaker’s otherworldy perceptions. “The lips of the pumpkin soon will be humming,” they warn, conjuring up the vision of a possessed jack-o-lantern. They finish on an ominous note of prophecy that upon the first of the year, “something will die, something appear.”

Structure and Form

‘A Rhyme for Halloween’ is a poem comprised of six quatrains with a rhyme scheme of ‘AABB’ that repeats across each stanza. Guevara also utilizes alliteration and internal and end rhymes to create a lyrical rhythm that evokes a kind of nursery or children’s rhyme. This cadence only makes the speaker’s narration of the unsettling scenes that take place on Halloween night all the more eerie and haunting.

Literary Devices

‘A Rhyme for Halloween’ employs the use of a variety of different literary devices to create its fantastical scenes, some of which are listed below:

  • Metaphor: “Tonight I light the candles of my eyes” (1).
  • Personification: “Our clock is blind, our clock is dumb. / Its hands are broken, its fingers numb” (13-14).
  • Visual imagery: “Yellow moon, skull and spine of the hare” (3); “Skunk, moose, raccoon, they go to the doors in threes / With a torch in their hands” (7-8); “One is the tail and one is the trunk” (10); “At the vision of her, bobbing up through the dark. / When she opens her mouth to gasp for air, / A moth flies out and lands in her hair” (18-20).
  • Kinesthetic imagery: “And swing down this branch full of red leaves” (2); “Arrow me to town on the neck of the air” (4); “Of a beast who dances in circles for beer” (11).
  • Auditory imagery: “I hear the undertaker make love in the heather” (5); “Now the dogs of the cemetery are starting to bark” (17); “The lips of the pumpkin soon will be humming” (22).

Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

Tonight I light the candles of my eyes in the lee
And swing down this branch full of red leaves.
Yellow moon, skull and spine of the hare,
Arrow me to town on the neck of the air.

In the first stanza of ‘A Rhyme for Halloween, the speaker is introduced as the narrator and is characterized in a way that implies they are of the supernatural world. “Tonight I light the candles of my eyes” (1), they declare, evoking the image of a jack-o-lantern.

In a swift sequence of kinesthetic imagery, they “swing down this branch full of red leaves” (2) and appear to cast a spell that will “arrow [them] to town on the neck of the air” (4). The stanza is also filled with visual imagery and diction that bolsters Guevara’s magical realism. From the “red leaves” (2) of the speaker’s perch to the objects listed in their invocation: Yellow moon, skull and spine of the hare” (3).

Stanza Two

I hear the undertaker make love in the heather;
The candy maker, poor fellow, is under the weather.

The second stanza begins with a description of the townspeople’s activities on Halloween night. Yet from the perspective of Guevara’s otherworldly speaker, even familiar aspects of the holiday are rendered strange and grotesque. The most prominent example of this is the group of trick-or-treaters going door-to-door: “Skunk, moose, raccoon, they go to the doors in threes / With a torch in their hands or pleas: ‘O, please . . .'” (7-8). The visual imagery of such an oddity reveals the power of the poet’s use of magical realism.

Stanza Three

Baruch Spinoza and the butcher are drunk:
One is the tail and one is the trunk

The third stanza of ‘A Rhyme for Halloween’ continues to explore the various Halloween revelers. This time focusing on a man named Baruch Spinoza — one-half of a pair dressed in a costume made for two people. Both men are described as being drunk inside their respective body parts: “One is the tail and one is the trunk / Of a beast who dances in circles for beer” (10-11).

What’s important to note is that at this point in the poem, despite fantastical and ominous diction, it is still possible to identify the borderlines between what is real and what is not. That is not actually a beast but Spinoza and the butcher; nor is it, in the case of the last stanza, a group of anthropomorphic woodland creatures trick-or-treating but children in costumes.

Stanza Four

Our clock is blind, our clock is dumb.
Its hands are broken, its fingers numb.

‘A Rhyme for Halloween’ undergoes a shift in its fourth stanza that is marked by its mysteriously troubling opening lines: “Our clock is blind, our clock is dumb. / Its hands are broken, its fingers numb” (13-14). The grim personification serves to underscore the way the town exists in a space beyond time’s effect — as well as its supernatural nature — perhaps as a means of foreshadowing the arrival of legends past and the dead who occupy them.

The last two lines of the stanza support this interpretation: as if to wind back time by breaking the clock, the speaker tells of the town’s martyr, a woman who “wasn’t a witch because she could drown” (16). This lurid line of thought continues into the next stanza.

Stanza Five

Now the dogs of the cemetery are starting to bark
At the vision of her, bobbing up through the dark.

The speaker describes via auditory imagery the way the “dogs of the cemetery are starting to bark” (17) because something is emerging from the murky waters. In a stunning and frightening example of visual imagery, the female martyr sentenced to death out of an accusation of witchcraft appears — “the vision of her, bobbing up through the dark” (18). The terror of the scene is completed by her gasps for air and the image of a “moth [flying] out and [landing] in her hair” (20).

Stanza Six

The apples are thumping, winter is coming.
The lips of the pumpkin soon will be humming.

‘A Rhyme for Halloween’ ends just as eerily as it began, with the speaker entangling a variety of familiar symbols of Halloween and transforming them into something ghastly. The “thumping” (21) of the apples (a reference to fall, during which the ripe fruit falls from the trees) creates a startling bit of aural imagery that might inspire the thought of bodies or even heads being lopped off.

While the austere claim that “winter is coming ” (21) adds a chilly reminder of the coming season that only brings death with it, as if to emphasize this, the speaker ends their rhyme with a paradoxical portent that when the crow caws on the “first of the year, / Something will die, something appear” (24).


What is the theme of ‘A Rhyme for Halloween?

The poem’s theme centers on its surreal portrayal of Halloween as a time of supernatural and somewhat sinister festivities. There are familiar elements like trick-or-treating and costumes, but these are lost amidst images of corpses coming to life and prophecies of death. All of which blurs the lines between reality and the ethereal.

Why did Maurice Kilwein Guevara write ‘A Rhyme for Halloween?

It can be gleaned from the poem’s heavy reliance on imagery that Guevara possibly enjoyed the holiday for a variety of reasons. Despite its foreboding tone and mood, the poem appears to be a celebration of Halloween that uses magical realism to offer a bizarre experience of the holiday.

What is the meaning of the personification in stanza four?

Guevara’s use of personification stands out in the poem as this ominous piece of figurative language. One interpretation could explain it as a symbol of the town’s paranormal connections: time is rendered useless (“blind” and “dumb”), and it is impossible to tell the minute or hour (“Its hands are broken, its fingers numb”).

What is the significance of the drowned woman in the poem?

The poem mentions a woman who was killed over a false accusation of being a witch. Guevara lived in both Colombia and the United States, so while it’s unclear what country the poem is set in, what’s interesting is both countries experienced their own witch hunts. The city of Cartagena, Colombia, in particular, was of great importance to the Spanish Inquisition. There, the Palacio de la Inquisición was built, where 800 people were executed for the practice of black magic. Many of those accused were women, so the poet’s allusion to the events serves as a bitter reproach of such bloody history.

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A Rhyme for Halloween

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Maurice Kilwein Guevara (poems)

Maurice Kilwein Guevara

This poem by Maurice Kilwein Guevara reveals the dazzling effect of the poet's use of magical realism within their verse. The poet takes the appearance of fantastical imagery and figurative language that renders everything in a supernatural light. The result is a poem that offers a curiously familiar but also hauntingly unnatural description of the holiday.
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20th Century

Guevara's poems often explore the complexities of immigrant life in America, especially in regard to the city of Pittsburgh, where he lived after moving with his family from Colombia. It was there he earned a Ph.D. in English and comparative literature. He is also known for using a variety of different forms and styles in his poetry, from prose to more traditional rhyme schemes in ballads such as this.
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Guevara was born in Belencito, Colombia, but spent the first seven years of his life moving with his family between Latin America and the cities of Baltimore and Pittsburgh. He has written numerous poetry collections, his first "Postmortem" came in 1994 and focused on immigration. He has also become well-known for the surreal scenes his poems have the capacity to conjure up.
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At its core, Guevara's poem is a holistic celebration of Halloween, one that encompasses both familiar and eerie elements of the holiday. The poem's magical realism renders everything supernatural, from trick-or-treaters to drunk men in costumes. The result is a poem that descends with each stanza into more supernatural eddies that both enchant and terrify.
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A theme found within the poem is death, which goes hand in hand with its exploration of Halloween legends and symbolism. It takes a number of different appearances with varying degrees of horror and severity. There is the appearance of the martyred woman who was killed for being accused of witchcraft, as well as the poem's ending portent of future deaths.
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An adjacent theme in the poem is the journey the speaker takes the reader on over the poem. The opening stanza characterizes them in a way that insinuates they, too, are part of the supernatural elements that emerge on Halloween night. From there, the speaker journeys into town and then explores its outskirts, which include the cemetery and haunted lake.
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There is some degree of amusement that is both implied and inspired by the poem. For one, it opens by describing through the fantastical eye of the speaker elements of Halloween revelry like trick-or-treating. There is also something strangely delightful about the speaker's descriptions of the children and men in costumes. Yet this amusement grows darker and darker as the poem continues.
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An emotion found within the poem comes in the form of disgust, which might be inspired by certain readers who find its images particularly gruesome. The poem's final few stanzas especially rely on a litany of visceral imagery that hones in on the macabre side of Halloween. One great example of this is the description of the martyred woman's head rising out of the water.
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Fear is another emotion found within the poem. Given that it is a poem about Halloween, it's not too surprising that such feeling is inspired within, but Guevara taps into that fear in subtle and unexpected ways. For one, his use of magical realism can be disarming when the second half of the poem introduces images that are much harder to explain away.
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As a poem about Halloween, ghosts, of course, feature within it. Everything from the speaker's descriptions of themselves to the dead woman could be categorized as being ghostly in nature. The effect blurs the line between reality and the supernatural to the point that it becomes impossible to discern the dividing line between the two.
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This is a great poem about Halloween by Guevara that captures all the different sides of the holiday, from the whimsical to the macabre. Through the poet's veil of magical realism, he crafts a journey through the evening that is both fantastical as it is terrifying. As it combines both the cultural celebration of the holiday with supernatural elements.
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The monsters found within Guevara's poem appear as supernatural visions, though it is hard to discern what's real and what's imagined because of the speaker's perspective. At first, these images are somewhat comforting as they are just peculiar renderings of people in costumes. Yet as the poem continues and the night grows later, the real monsters start to emerge.
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Witchcraft is also touched on within the poem and actually becomes a dominant part of it in its final stanzas. As the speaker moves past the Halloween celebrations of the townsfolk, they hone in on a martyred woman killed for supposedly being a witch. This also serves as a powerful allusion to the witch hunts that occurred in both Colombia and the United States.
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Guevara is known for both experimentation and utilizing traditional styles and rhyme schemes in his poetry. This poem, in particular, is structured as a ballad because of its 'AABB' rhyme scheme, which lends it a lyrical cadence that only makes its fantastical imagery all the more eerie and unnerving for the reader. This is a great example of the poet's formal lyrical tendencies.
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Magical Realism

Guevara's poetry is defined by its tendency toward magical realism, and this poem by him is no different. There is perhaps no better subject matter to explore with such a surrealist touch than the night of Halloween, as it presents a variety of supernatural and otherworldly scenes with uncanny realism. All of this makes reading the poem incredibly immersive.
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Steven Ward Poetry Expert
Steven Ward is a passionate writer, having studied for a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and being a poetry editor for the 'West Wind' publication. He brings this experience to his poetry analysis on Poem Analysis.

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