My siblings and I grew up on bits and pieces of poetry my Dad had memorized. We loved his proverbs, his pithy sayings, his rhymed couplets, and made-up words. One of our favorite poems, however, was his spooky rendition of Robert Service’s tale, The Cremation of Sam McGee. He could quote it word for word – all fifteen verses – with animation, prolonged vowels at the most suspenseful places, and an occasional sinister laugh under his breath. We would sit there, rapt, looking up at his muted grin, watching his eyes glint and flash as his whole body told the story.
I can hear his voice now.
There are strange things done ‘neath the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.
Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee,
where the cotton blooms and blows.
Why he left his home in the South to roam ’round the Pole, nobody knows.
He was always cold, but the land of gold
seemed to hold him like a spell;
Though he’d often say in his homely way that he’d sooner live in…
“Tooele,” my Dad would say. And we would giggle. We knew it didn’t rhyme. But respectful of our small ears, he did his own editing. (Now, I’m not dissin’ any one who lives in Tooele. It’s currently a lovely place to live, but back in the day the only thing it was known for was its landfill.)
My dad could spin magic with poetry. Conjure images that took flight in our minds and hovered inside us. He helped us develop a passion for words, taught us the importance of saying what we wanted to say. It was my Dad who first sparked my appetite for poetry.
So with a Halloween costume to sew today, and a run to Costco that must happen or we will have some disappointed trick-or-treaters ringing our doorbell, I thought I’d simply share with you a couple Halloween poems from two of my favorite, more sophisticated poets. Their words are innocent, haunting, with charming imagery that walks across you, snatches you up, and takes you somewhere familiar and new at the same time. A small delight on an October day.
Theme in Yellow
By Carl Sandburg
I spot the hills
With yellow balls in autumn.
I light the prairie cornfields
Orange and tawny gold clusters
And I am called pumpkins.
On the last of October
When dusk is fallen
Children join hands
And circle round me
Singing ghost songs
And love to the harvest moon;
I am a jack-o’-lantern
With terrible teeth
And the children know
I am fooling.
By Louise Glück
Even now this landscape is assembling
The hills darken. The oxen
Sleep in their blue yoke,
The fields having been
Picked clean, the sheaves
Bound evenly and piled at the roadside
Among the cinquefoil, as the toothed moon rises:
This is the barrenness
Of harvest or pestilence
And the wife leaning out the window
With her hand extended, as in payment,
And the seeds
Distinct, gold, calling
Come here, little one
And the soul creeps out of the tree.
What phrases or images do you like? Care to share one of your favorite Halloween poems?