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Theme in Yellow

Theme in Yellow

by Carl Sandburg

Lines 1-5 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 1-2

I SPOT the hills
With yellow balls in autumn.

  • People don't usually look like "yellow balls in autumn," right? So from the very beginning we're sensing that the speaker isn't telling this poem through the perspective of a human.
  • It looks like these first two lines are simply describing the scenery at the moment with some figurative language of something that looks like yellow balls or "spots" all over the hills.
  • We don't know for sure what these yellow balls are yet, but we're guessing they're some kind of plant or fruit, bearing in mind that yellow color.
  • Either way, it looks like the speaker wants us to pay attention to that word. That's no typo; "SPOT" really is in all capital letters, so let's keep the speaker happy and spend a bit more time with that choice. 
  • The word "spot" here is being used as a verb, so the speaker is really emphasizing the appearance of those yellow balls. They look like little "spots" from a distance, and if you've ever had the opportunity to go pumpkin-picking in the fall, you've probably seen something like this.
  • By now your Shmooper sense is probably acting up, because you're picking up on Sandburg's use of personification here. Since the speaker is using the perspective of a non-human object (and is, of course, speaking as that object), we know those "yellow balls" are telling us their story directly.
  • What's the effect of that? Why tell a poem through the perspective of something that's non-human? Does personification in this case make the poem immediately feel more authentic, as if we're allowed to see autumn through the eyes of one if its biggest and most notable stars (pumpkins)?
  • Notice, too, that the speaker is keeping things simple here: no fancy words, long lines that drag on, or highbrow ideas everyday folks don't really care for. 
  • We've also got some enjambment here with line 1 flowing into line 2 without any punctuation to stop it. So our pumpkin-speaker sounds like he's having a normal conversation with us. And we know Sandburg loves using this sort of style. Check out "Form and Meter" for more.

Lines 3-4

I light the prairie cornfields
Orange and tawny gold clusters

  • By line 3 we get some more imagery that's slightly different from the "yellow balls" on the hills.
  • These "orange and tawny gold clusters" are in the "prairie cornfields," but since we're dealing with the same speaker, we can assume we're still looking at the same sort of thing. 
  • The only difference is the color. And for all you pumpkin enthusiasts, you know that their color can range from yellow to orange, and sometimes even green.
  • There's more of them too, since they're now in "clusters." So we suspect we're closer to harvesting time. 
  • Notice the figurative language the speaker is using in line 3 ("I light the prairie"). It's as if those orange clusters look like globes of light since their color is so vibrant. They're special-looking, giving that prairie some pizzazz with those bright colors.
  • We have more enjambment too between lines 3 and 4 that's maintaining the conversational sound Sandburg loves so dearly. The speaker is looking to keep things simple, informal, bearing in mind of course that the speaker is a pumpkin. Pumpkins aren't interested in formal wear, right? So the more conversational, the better.

Line 5

And I am called pumpkins.

  • Line 5 kind of comes like a punch line, just in case there was any doubt as to what we're dealing with here: pumpkins.
  • So by now we get that those "yellow balls," and "orange and tawny gold clusters" are really just pumpkins dressed up in figurative language. 
  • But why all the imagery? Why not just come out and say "I am called pumpkins" earlier in the poem, maybe in line 1?
  • Remember Shmoopers, we're dealing with poetry here, and poets need to build their poems with words that really capture what things look and feel like. So we need to have the picture painted first before getting to the point here in line 5.
  • Notice the period after this line. We don't have all that many periods in this poem (bearing in mind all the enjambment) so the speaker is really emphasizing his point here by declaring "I am pumpkins!" (minus the exclamation point).
  • We've also had more than a few instances of the word "I" being used, which reminds us that the speaker is the pumpkin (not literally of course, but in the imaginative world of poetry). 
  • You might also wonder why he's called "pumpkins," as in more than one of them. It seems like we're not just listening to one specific pumpkin, but rather it's as though all pumpkins were speaking through our speaker, as if he alone is embodying the spirit of the season. Pretty cool, huh?

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