Theme in Yellow
by Carl Sandburg
Theme in Yellow Introduction
In A Nutshell
Imagine being so good at what you do that people can't help but name a bunch of schools and parks after you. Then, after your death, folks can't resist nominating the house you lived in as a National Historic Site. If that's not impressive, we don't know what is.
All of the above is but a glimpse into the life and career of Carl Sandburg. And you'd think all the fuss would make the guy all pompous and too big for his britches, right? Wrong. Sandburg was anything but pretentious and pompous. In fact, he considered most of modern poetry to be nothing more than "a series of ear wigglings." He didn't like all the highbrow words and ideas that other poets of his time couldn't help but churn out. In fact, critics often coined Sandburg as the "voice of America singing." And folks don't usually sing about academia, so by now you're probably catching the drift of what Sandburg was more so about.
He wrote in a simple, beautiful, yet still completely unique kind of way. That takes a lot skill, Shmoopers, so get ready to take some notes on how "Theme in Yellow" is a perfect example of Sandburg's singing American style.
"Theme in Yellow," first published in Chicago Poems (1916), is all about pumpkins and Halloween. Already you're probably nodding your head thinking, yeah, I could dig this. Making things even better is the fact that the speaker imagines himself as a pumpkin, so the whole poem is told through a pumpkin's perspective. And we know you always wanted to know what those pumpkins were thinking around Halloween, so here's your chance to gather round, tell a few ghost stories, and just have a poetically delicious time—of it all without a bunch of "ear wigglings."
Why Should I Care?
You have to admit, Halloween (despite all the cheesy commercial stuff) does have an eerie and mysterious vibe about it. How could it not with all the witches, vampires, and werewolves running around? We're guessing Carl Sandburg was really digging the spooky vibe the year he wrote "Theme in Yellow," but decided to portray Halloween as something harmless, and maybe even cute.
And what better way to tell a harmless Halloween story than through the perspective of a pumpkin in autumn? By using such a pumpkin-centric voice, Sandburg lets us see Halloween through the eyes of a jolly pumpkin, and really, what's more likeable than that? Immediately, we get the sense that the speaker is showing us this autumnal world in a way that's equally beautiful as it is fun and a little spooky. So Sandburg is kind of saying, hey guys, it doesn't have to be all about gore and poisoned apples.
And if you're more so the type who skips the whole trick-or-treat gimmick and prefers a good slice of pumpkin pie, we're thinking you'll catch Sandburg's drift. So enjoy the scenery, carve a pumpkin or two, and check out this take on that spooky time of year that comes only once.