October 4, 2020

Sandburg's Jack-O-Lantern: A poem to read aloud

Poems to Read Aloud , The Buckley Experience , Resources , Public Speaking

The Buckley School's founder believed that all public speakers should hone their presentation skills by reading poetry out loud. We keep that worthwhile practice alive by including a poem in our magazine each month for you to read aloud.


"Trying to write briefly about Carl Sandburg is like trying to picture the Grand Canyon in one black and white snapshot."

– A friend describing Carl Sandburg

American writer Carl Sandburg was awarded three Pulitzer Prizes, two for poetry and one for his biography of Lincoln.

Sandburg was born in 1878 in Illinois and quit school at 13 to help earn money for his family by driving a milk wagon. He continued to work throughout his teenage years as a bricklayer and farm laborer until he joined the military during the Spanish-American War and was stationed in Puerto Rico. He also attended Lombard College, though he never finished his degree.

Sandburg launched his writing career by working as a journalist for the Chicago Daily News. He would go on to write poetry, histories, biographies, novels, and children's books.

His poetry received mixed reviews. Sandburg biographer Karl Detzer said that "admirers proclaimed him a latter-day Walt Whitman; objectors cried that their six-year-old daughters could write better poetry."

Sandburg tended to write in free verse and was skeptical of both strict form and modern poetry. He published his 38 definitions of poetry, including this one: "Poetry is the opening and closing of a door, leaving those who look through to guess about what is seen during a moment."

Sandburg house in Flat Rock, N.C.

In 1945, Sandburg moved to Connemara, a 246-acre farm in Flat Rock, North Carolina (about a two-and-a-half hour drive from The Buckley School) where he lived until his death on July 22, 1967. The site is now managed by the National Park Service, with free public access to the grounds, trails, and barn.

For your read aloud enjoyment, we present a Sandburg poem that takes you inside the head of a jack-o-lantern.

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 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.

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