Analysis of When the Frost is on the Punkin by James Whitcomb Riley

"When the Frost is on the Punkin" is a poem written by James Whitcomb Riley. It is a poem that, even now, is read to children to describe harvest time.

The poem is composed of four stanzas, each containing eight lines. It maintains an AABBCCDD rhyme scheme throughout the poem, with each ABC being unique to every stanza. The D rhyme is the same for all four stanzas and the final line of each stanza is a repeat of the very first line in the poem. It is also interesting to note the density of each stanza given the length of the lines.

The poem is written in the speaker’s rural vernacular, creating an interesting sound while it is read. As such, there are words and objects that may not be commonly known to those living any place other than the countryside.

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,

Though some may be confused, "punkin" is actually a pumpkin. To many who are unfamiliar with life on the countryside or have only experienced modern society, "fodder’s in the shock" can be quite confusing. Fodder is animal feed and shock, in this case, is a group of sheaves of grain. The group, made up of twelve sheaves of grain, are tied and stacked so that they support each other.

And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock,
And the clackin’ of the guineys, and the cluckin’ of the hens,
And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;

These lines create the sounds of various animals found in the countryside. The first four lines of the poem are filled with a great deal of description. The inclusion of visual and audial details creates a dynamic feel for the reader to experience. The great rural setting is wonderfully depicted from the start of the poem.

O, it’s then’s the times a feller is a-feelin’ at his best,
With the risin’ sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

The speaker of the poem asserts he feels the best when the setting is as described. It gives the impression of a beautiful harvest time and serenity. In these lines, the speaker is portrayed as rested, peaceful, and joyful to feed the animals and go about his daily duties.

They’s something kindo’ harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer’s over and the coolin’ fall is here—

Again, the vernacular is very obvious through the atypical spelling of various words. In this case, "atmusfere" simply means "atmosphere." The speaker continues to support the aforementioned claim of serenity and beauty at this time of year in the country through description of the weather. The heat during summertime seems overwhelming, suffocating in comparison to the coolness of fall. In addition, the natural pace of it can be seen from the descriptions at the start of the poem.

Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossums on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin’-birds and buzzin’ of the bees;

Here begins a contrast between a "brighter" time of year with the autumn. This is an effective method on behalf of the speaker. It allows for the reader to truly appreciate the beauty that is being illustrated in the poem. Thesetwo lines paint a bright, lively, and busy time of year in a positive light.

But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days

The lines in this stanza continue to show autumn as a picturesque and serene time of year. Even the difference in colors stands out through each line and the air is described as "appetizin.’"

Is a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock—
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

In fact, the speaker asserts the crisp autumn is so perfect, its true essence and beauty cannot be fully captured even in a painting.

The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,
And the raspin’ of the tangled leaves, as golden as the morn;

The first line in this stanza has a very nice feel and flow to it. It rolls off the tongue easily, something that adds to the mood the poem sets. It is describing the sound of corn tassels, likely from the gentle wind. It is a soft, soothing sound. This is then accompanied by the rasping of leaves, yet another soft sound. These two further add to the effect of the autumn description.

The stubble in the furries—kindo’ lonesome-like, but still

Once again, a definition of certain terms comes in handy. Stubble here refers to cut stalks of grain protruding from the ground after harvest.

A-preachin’ sermuns to us of the barns they growed to fill;
The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;

There is a bit of personification occurring here, as these two lines likely reference the aforementioned corn. These lines speak of the corn as if it, through the rustling, spoke to those harvesting it about its purpose to be bountiful.

The hosses in theyr stalls below—the clover over-head!—
O, it sets my hart a-clickin’ like the tickin’ of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!

Everything listed in this stanza shows objects and bounties in their respective places. In other words, all is as it should be and so it is peaceful. It denotes a calm beauty from a picturesque farmland in the fall.

Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps
Is poured around the celler-floor in red and yeller heaps;

Whether the reader can identify with the life portrayed in the poem or not, it is certain to capture attention. Even if the reader has never experienced such a setting, the description is so rich it can be clearly pictured. Even the apples appear in red and yellow, both of which exist on the color palette of autumn.

And your cider-makin’ ’s over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With their mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and saussage, too! …

These lines gives a glimpse into rural life, actions taken by the inhabitants, rather than continuing with pure imagery. This makes the poem become slightly more alive.

I don’t know how to tell it—but ef sich a thing could be
As the Angels wantin’ boardin’, and they’d call around on me—
I’d want to ’commodate ’em—all the whole-indurin’ flock—

The fall season is so comforting, rich, and delightful the speaker believes even angels should witness it.
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!

The poem ends with the same line that closes out each stanza. This shows a connection in the poem, one the speaker is demonstrating through the constant portrayal of a countryside autumn.

This poem is an exploration of imagery on the fall season experienced by those in rural areas. Though it relies mostly on description, the poem does not become dull or leave out any message. It even gives a small glimpse into the life at the place the reader is taken, allowing for a deeper connection and appreciation to the subject matter.

The theme of this poem is based on the tranquil beauty found in the richness of harvest time. It is a theme of appreciating nature and life by taking the time to really observe it. The illustration composed by the words in this poem take the reader to a place where it is important, and possible, to value everything. It is taking the time to admire the small things and respect life. It is a reminder to relax and bask in the beauty gifted by nature to us.