Tonight is Halloween — Samhain. In the old agricultural calendar and in the hokku calendar, it marks autumn’s end and the beginning of winter.
This year it is unusual in having a “blue moon” — the second full moon in a month. It is unusual also in that the usual festive activities of children and adults have been disrupted by the uncontrolled spread of the virus, due partly to the dangerously incompetent presidential administration in Washington.
The American “prairie” poet, writer, and biographer of Lincoln Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) wrote an unusual poem in which he gives a single, colletive voice to the pumpkin — that common symbol of Halloween in the United States, particularly when carved into a Jack-o’ lantern. It is titled
THEME IN YELLOW
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 circle round me
Singing ghost songs
And love to the harvest moon;
I am jack-o’lantern
With terrible teeth
And the children know
I am fooling.
It is an easy poem to understand, and one can readily visualize the low hill fields spotted with pumpkins, and the prairie cornfields ( fields of maize to speakers of British English) with their clusters of pumpkin vines.
Then Sandburg moves to Halloween (“the last of October”) and the celebrations of children, having fun scaring one another with the notion of ghosts, and so expressing their love of Halloween “to the harvest moon.”
The summation of Halloween comes in the last line, when in spite of the frightful appearance of “jack-o’-lantern / With terrible teeth,” Sandburg as pumpkin gives the secret of the joy of the night away:
“And the children know I am fooling.”
It is the combination of the fearful elements of Halloween with the knowledge that it is all “fooling” that has made it a unique and much-anticipated celebration for children and young adults.
This Halloween marks a crucial time for the United States. It will shortly be followed by the Presidential election, and there is great fear and stress that if we do not have a change of administration voted in this beginning of November, it will mean not only four more years of unpredictable and perilous chaos, but also an even deeper decline and fall into ongoing authoritarianism, kleptocracy, and the perhaps final national loss of the best of traditional American values — as well as the disastrous continuation of unbridled climate change and environmental rape and destruction. That should be enough to frighten anyone this Halloween, not only in the United States but in the entire free world. And that is no fooling.