Homage to Shel Silverstein

During Thanksgiving, we played a game in which one person had the name of a famous person stuck to his or her forehead, and the rest of the players answered questions to help the player figure out who they were supposed to be.  In one round, my eight-year-old daughter picked the celebrity.  She suggested that we use Shel Silverstein as the name for her aunt’s forehead.

So, imagine her delight when on Christmas morning, she opened a copy of Silverstein’s Every Thing On It (2011).  It was from her grandfather, my dad, who had remembered her interest in Silverstein’s poetry.  For the last few years, her favorite book has been The Missing Piece (1976).  My husband has spent many nights reading it to her and with her, each of them taking turns in silly sing-song voices.  I think they have it memorized.

When I was a child, one of my favorite books to peruse on a rainy day was Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic (1981).  His creative and whimsical poetry never failed to brighten my day.  And I’m sure most of us are familiar with The Giving Tree (1964).  Silverstein’s work is timeless and classic, sure to never go out of style or favor with children (or adults).

shel silverstein cover

Since Every Thing On It was a present for my daughter, I, of course, read it first, on Christmas day, while my family was occupied with other toys and movies.  Here are my favorite poems from the collection.

Masks

She had blue skin,

And so did he.

He kept it hid

And so did she.

They search for blue

Their whole life through,

Then passed right by—

And never knew.

 

The Yesees and Noees

The Yesees said yes to anything

That anyone suggested.

The Noees said no to everything

Unless it was proven and tested.

So the Yesees all died of much too much

And the Noees all died of fright,

But somehow I think the Thinkforyourselfees

All came out all right.

 

Underface

Underneath  my outside face

There’s a face that none can see.

A little less smiley,

A little less sure,

But a whole lot more like me.

 

The Dollhouse

You can’t crawl back in the dollhouse—

You’ve gotten too big to get in.

You’ve got to live here

Like the rest of us do.

You’ve got to walk roads

That are winding and new.

But oh, I wish I could

Crawl back with you,

Into the dollhouse again.

Now you may be wondering why this collection was published in 2011, when Silverstein died of a heart attack in 1999.  Well, it was published posthumously.  If only there were more manuscripts hidden away, and we could benefit from new works of genius for years to come.  Since we can’t, we’ll have to make do with what he did produce.

Here’s my daughter’s favorite poem from the collection so far.  It’s the title poem.

Every Thing On It

I asked for a hot dog

With everything on it,

And that was my big mistake,

‘Cause it came with a parrot,

A bee in a bonnet,

A wristwatch, a wrench, and a rake.

It came with a goldfish,

A flag, and a fiddle,

A frog, and a front porch swing,

And a mouse in a mask—

That’s the last time I ask

For a hot dog with everything.

I think the best quality of the poetry, although silly and creative, is the deeper meaning.  The verses may mean different things to different people, and those meanings may change depending on your age, life circumstances, or perspective, but the poems are multi-layered and meaningful.  They explore the profound truths of life, the mysteries of human nature, and the trouble with getting old or being young.

The illustrations don’t hurt things either.  Sometimes, they make the entire poem work.

What’s your favorite Shel Silverstein book/poem?

 

Works Cited

Silverstein, Shel.  Every Thing On It.  New York: Harper Collins, 2011.

 

 

 

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28 thoughts on “Homage to Shel Silverstein

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  1. My favorite was always, “Something Missing.”

    I remember I put on my socks,
    I remember I put on my shoes.
    I remember I put on my tie
    That was painted
    In beautiful purples and blues.
    I remember I put on my coat,
    To look perfectly grand at the dance,
    Yet I feel there is something
    I may have forgot—
    What is it? What is it? …

    The illustration shows a man with no pants.

    I thought it was so funny when I was a kid!

  2. My favorite Shel poem is:

    Sick

    by Shel Silverstein

    “I cannot go to school today,”
    Said little Peggy Ann McKay.
    “I have the measles and the mumps,
    A gash, a rash and purple bumps.
    My mouth is wet, my throat is dry,
    I’m going blind in my right eye.
    My tonsils are as big as rocks,
    I’ve counted sixteen chicken pox
    And there’s one more–that’s seventeen,
    And don’t you think my face looks green?
    My leg is cut–my eyes are blue–
    It might be instamatic flu.
    I cough and sneeze and gasp and choke,
    I’m sure that my left leg is broke–
    My hip hurts when I move my chin,
    My belly button’s caving in,
    My back is wrenched, my ankle’s sprained,
    My ‘pendix pains each time it rains.
    My nose is cold, my toes are numb.
    I have a sliver in my thumb.
    My neck is stiff, my voice is weak,
    I hardly whisper when I speak.
    My tongue is filling up my mouth,
    I think my hair is falling out.
    My elbow’s bent, my spine ain’t straight,
    My temperature is one-o-eight.
    My brain is shrunk, I cannot hear,
    There is a hole inside my ear.
    I have a hangnail, and my heart is–what?
    What’s that? What’s that you say?
    You say today is. . .Saturday?
    G’bye, I’m going out to play!”

    I still recall this poem those times when I’m laying in bed in the morning trying to talk myself out of calling in sick to work. 🙂

    1. LOL! That’s so great that you still think about it when wanting to call in sick for work. It just goes to show, sometimes our problems don’t really change once we get older… 🙂

  3. My son and I both love the poem “Stubbornness” By Shel Silverstein

    There was a funky donkey and a spunky monkey.
    They were sittin’ by the railroad track.
    Said the funky donkey to the spunky monkey,
    “I’m goin’ off to somewhere and I won’t be back.”
    Said the spunky monkey to the funky donkey,
    “If you wait for a minute or two,
    I’ll go say good-bye to the frivolous fly,
    And I’ll come along with you.”

    Said the spunky monkey to the funky donkey,
    “This road looks long and wide,
    So if you’ll just pick me up and carry me awhile,
    I’d sure be much obliged.”
    Said the funky donkey to the spunky monkey
    “I was gonna ask the same of you.
    So we’d better just wait till we get it straight
    As to who’s gonna carry who.”

    Now the funky donkey he ain’t goin’ nowhere
    ‘Less somebody carries him,
    And the spunky monkey won’t carry no donkey,
    So their future’s lookin’ dim.
    And they’re still sittin’ back by that railroad track.
    They’ll be there tillthe moon turns blue,
    But they ain’t gonna ride, ’cause they just can’t decide
    As to who’s gonna carry who.

    1. That’s a fantastic one! There are so many meanings and ways to apply it to ourselves. I would say it shows the problem with never getting started on a project. But since it’s titled “Stubbornness” that is definitely what I see as well. We all need to give a little (or a lot sometimes), especially in relationships.

  4. My favorite Shel Poem is:

    Melinda Mae

    Have you heard of tiny Melinda Mae,
    Who ate a monstrous whale?
    She thought she could,
    She said she would,
    So she started in right at the tail.

    And everyone said,’You’re much too small,’
    But that didn’t bother Melinda at all,
    She took little bites and she shewed very slow,
    Just like a little girl should…

    …and eighty-nine years later she ate that whale
    Because she said she would!!!

    When ever things get tough or I am faced with a monstrous challenge I always remind myself that if Melinda Mae could do it, so can I! Where the Sidewalk Ends, was the first Silverstein book I owned. I bought it when I was a senior in high school thinking that when I became a parent one day my children would also enjoy it immensely. I thought they could discover too for themselves all the many profound understandings about themselves and the world they are surrounded with in that fun and whimsical way Shel conveyed it with poetry and drawings…and I was right! My 4 year old son loves it. 🙂

    1. That’s awesome, Chanelle! How great that you are passing a love of reading and this kind of poetry onto your son. That is a great poem that you shared and it does give that motivation, even to adults, to finish what they start or to try something that may seem way too big to handle! Thanks for sharing. (I miss you.)

  5. I really enjoyed this post. I have never really been into poetry, although since having children we have all enjoyed Dr Seuss’s rhymes. Being in Ireland, I too have not heard of Shel Silverstein. I loved the examples on your post and the comments. Just looked up his books on Amazon and delighted to discover he also wrote ‘A boy named Sue’ for Johnny Cash. Put some books on my Amazon wish list. Thank you for the introduction to a new writer.

  6. Emily, this is fabulous. I loved reading everyone’s favorites. My favorite of his is “The Giving Tree.” It makes me tear up just thinking about it as I read it to my kids often. I love the guessing game you played as well. If you don’t mind, we may borrow it this week. But, I will share one back. At the dinner table, we used to play make up a story with someone saying the first line of a story, then the next person adding the next line and so on. Like improv you could only add not change. Also, thanks for following my blog. It means a lot. Have a wondrous 2013. BTG

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