Education

Top 10 Best Unforgettable Shel Silverstein Poems

Shel Silverstein Poems

Shel Silverstein, the poet, has written a lot of poems encompassing a wide range of themes in various styles that have found a place in books, bands, and films.

Identity crisis in Weird Bird and One Inch Tall; Mistaken identity in Messy Room; Fear and anxiety about the bleak future in Whatif; Curiosity in Picture Puzzle Piece; Futility in Cloony the Clown; On surrendering to God’s will in God’s Wheel; the Significance of name in A Boy named Sue; a recap of Innocence in Forgotten Language and Where the sidewalk ends; and a thirst for impossible in One Inch Tall are some of the subjects of poetic imaginations covered here in the discussed Shel Silverstein Poems.

Shel Silverstein may be regarded as the King in the field of artistdom.

In The Article

1

Weird-Bird

 Poem:

Birds are flyin’ south for winter
Here’s the Weird-Bird headin’ north,
Wings a-flappin‘, beak a-chatterin‘,
Cold head bobbin’ back ‘n’ forth.

He says, “It’s not that I like ice
Orfreezin’ winds and snowy ground.
It’s just sometimes it’s kind of nice
To be the only bird in town.”

weird-bird

Summary:

The eight-lined simple poem talks about the natural migration of birds in general, and about a particular bird that prefers to fly in the opposite direction. The chillness of the weather does not bother this weird bird. It seems to want to be unique at any cost.

Each of us craves for recognition as an individual. It is quite natural to have this unnatural thirst in every common being. We are constantly nagged at the thought of being lost amidst the mass in this vast universe.

We want to establish our individuality and hence end up doing something unique, noteworthy or weird. This crazy attitude of ours sets us apart from others and luckily sometimes earns us name and fame (just as Shel Silverstein, I suppose).

It is as simple as taking up a job and doing it mechanically or trying to do something different to break the monotony of the routine work. It might also mean quitting the job to follow the passion, where too much of risk is involved like the weird bird’s willingness to fight the cold.

In appreciation of this bird’s intention to be a class apart, I prefer to have the ‘Unique Bird’ as the title for this poem.

It is a short poem with abab and cdcd rhyme scheme.
The omission of ‘g’s in words and the use of ‘n’ gives a nasal effect to the reading.

The technique of the use of self-revelation of the weird bird underlines the theme of the poem.
On the whole, it is a short and sweet poem with a thick content lying heavily on it.
All credits to the poet!

2

Messy Room

Poem:

Whosever room this is should be ashamed!
His underwear is hanging on the lamp.

His raincoat is there in the overstuffed chair,
And the chair is becoming quite mucky and damp.

His workbook is wedged in the window,
His sweater’s been thrown on the floor.

His scarf and one ski are beneath the TV,
And his pants have been carelessly hung on the door.

His books are all jammed in the closet,
His vest has been left in the hall.

A lizard named Ed is asleep in his bed,
And his smelly old sock has been stuck to the wall.

Whosever room this is should be ashamed!
Donald or Robert or Willie or–
Huh? You say it’s mine? Oh, dear,
I knew it looked familiar!

messy-room

Summary:

The poem comprising 16 lines is written in a very simple style with rhymes strewn over casually – lamp, damp; window, floor, door; hall, wall; dear, familiar. The description shows how unorderly a room can be.

The opening lines show how disgusted the poet is on seeing the messy room. He chides the occupant for having thrown the clothes all over and for disarranging the things in general and the books in particular. He recalls the names of his friends, and then there is a twist in the end when he realizes that the room is his own and none others’ and that he is the ultimate messer.

The poet’s compassion is vivid in his naming of the lizard; probably it is his only companion in the room.

3

Whatif

 Poem:

Last night, while I lay thinking here,
some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
and pranced and partied all night long
and sang their same old Whatif song:

Whatif I’m dumb in school?
Whatif they’ve closed the swimming pool?
Whatif I get beat up?
Whatif there’s poison in my cup?

Whatif I start to cry?
Whatif I get sick and die?
Whatif I flunk that test?
Whatif green hair grows on my chest?

Whatif nobody likes me?
Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?
Whatif I don’t grow taller?
Whatif my head starts getting smaller?

Whatif the fish won’t bite?
Whatif the wind tears up my kite?
Whatif they start a war?
Whatif my parents get divorced?

Whatif the bus is late?
Whatif my teeth don’t grow in straight?
Whatif I tear my pants?
Whatif I never learn to dance?

Everything seems well, and then
the nighttime Whatifs strike again!

whatif

Summary:

This poem starting with Whatif has each couple of lines rhyming to each other – eg. hear, ear; long, song and the rest.

It is the night time that haunts us with fears. It is the night time that threatens us with doubts. During the day we get involved in our busy lives and do not have time to ponder. At night, when we tend to rest, our idle mind starts busying with the flashes of day’s activities.

We start wondering if we had done everything right and well and even then whatif someone does not like it or approve of it. Beyond this, we also stretch our wild imagination and fear in anticipation of all bad things, both big and small, happening to us. The uncertainty of life and the masking of future contributions to the anxiety in mankind.

In a very simple style, the poet has recorded a profound thought. The last couple of lines summarize the explanation given above.

4

Picture Puzzle Piece

 Poem:

One picture puzzle piece
Lyin’ on the sidewalk,
One picture puzzle piece
Soakin’ in the rain.

It might be a button of blue
On the coat of the woman
Who lived in a shoe.

It might be a magical bean,
Or a fold in the red
Velvet robe of a queen.

It might be the one little bite
Of the apple her stepmother
Gave to Snow White.

It might be the veil of a bride
Or a bottle with some evil genie inside.

It might be a small tuft of hair
On the big bouncy belly
Of Bobo the Bear.

It might be a bit of the cloak
Of the Witch of the West
As she melted to smoke.

It might be a shadowy trace
Of a tear that runs down an angel’s face.

Nothing has more possibilities
Then one old wet picture puzzle piece.

picture-puzzle-piece

Summary:

The poem is about a picture that is lying on a wet ground and hence is not clear to the passerby who chances to see it. The person becomes curious about the disoriented piece and thinks of the many possibilities as to what the picture might have contained.

However, ultimately dismissing all conjectures, the onlooker resigns to the fact that the content in the picture would always remain a puzzle. This peculiar nature in man shall be extended to life at a large scale.

The poet has displayed his wide range of interest pertaining to the children’s arena – like nursery rhymes, fairy tale, children’s books and movies while exhibiting his curiosity on a dismantled picture.

The rhyming words blue shoe, bean queen, bite white… add music to the poem, though the author does not strictly follow any particular rhyme scheme.

5

Cloony The Clown

 Poem:

I’ll tell you the story of Cloony the Clown
Who worked in a circus that came through town.

His shoes were too big and his hat was too small,
But he just wasn’t, just wasn’t funny at all.

He had a trombone to play loud silly tunes,
He had a green dog and a thousand balloons.

He was floppy and sloppy and skinny and tall,
But he just wasn’t, just wasn’t funny at all.

And every time he did a trick,
Everyone felt a little sick.

And every time he told a joke,
Folks sighed as if their hearts were broke.

And every time he lost a shoe,
Everyone looked awfully blue.

And every time he stood on his head,
Everyone screamed, “Go back to bed!”

And every time he made a leap,
Everybody fell asleep.

And every time he ate his tie,
Everyone began to cry.

And Cloony could not make any money
Simply because he was not funny.

One day he said, “I’ll tell this town
How it feels to be an unfunny clown.”

And he told them all why he looked so sad,
And he told them all why he felt so bad.

He told of Pain and Rain and Cold,
He told of Darkness in his soul,

And after he finished his tale of woe,
Did everyone cry? Oh no, no, no,

They laughed until they shook the trees
With “Hah-Hah-Hahs” and “Hee-Hee-Hees.”

They laughed with howls and yowls and shrieks,
They laughed all day, they laughed all week,

They laughed until they had a fit,
They laughed until their jackets split.

The laughter spread for miles around
To every city, every town,

Over mountains, ‘cross the sea,
From Saint Tropez to Mun San Nee.

And soon the whole world rang with laughter,
Lasting till forever after,

While Cloony stood in the circus tent,
With his head drooped low and his shoulders bent.

And he said,” THAT IS NOT WHAT I MEANT –
I’M FUNNY JUST BY ACCIDENT.”

And while the world laughed outside.
Cloony the Clown sat down and cried.

cloony-the-clown

Summary:

The poem is a clown in a circus who is not able to do justice to his profession. His main job is to play some pranks to make people laugh. His clownish acts do not excite the crowd with laughter. The more he attempts to be funny the less the people laugh. Only when there is joy within can a person radiate it outside.

The clown becomes disappointed and dejected when people do not relish his funny acts. His depression surfaces as a form of confession to the crowd. The whole affair gets jolted, for the listeners started roaring with laughter. The miserable clown then ends up crying.

There are layers of meaning to this story about the helpless clown. We cannot totally blame the society as being sadistic or apathetic. We too might have come across such instances when we least expect this indifferent attitude from people with whom we share our troubles; when all the while we only look forward to their love, concern, and support. Probably our people around us want us to be happy, dismissing all our worries. They may definitely empathize with us when they are in a mood to do so.

First and foremost, the clown should have a funny appearance. The people who come to circus expect the performers to play their parts. It is just a time-pass for them. They would only be impatient with lame excuses. The clown should behave in a professional way instead of trying to draw sympathy from the onlookers.

This professionalism applies to people of all walks of life. If one is not happy with the job or is not able to justice in the work-place one must quit at once and look for the job of one’s own interest.

Perhaps the people laugh because they find it strange for a clown to be sad, or they think of their own blessed state.

The poem written in Silverstein’s simple narrative style has each of the two lines rhyming at the end – clown, town; small, all; balloons tunes… The highlight of the poem is that he has maintained this rhyme scheme till the end of the poem.

6

God's Wheel

Poem:

GOD says to me with a kind
of a smile, “Hey how would you like
to be God awhile And steer the world?”
“Okay,” says I, “I’ll give it a try.

Where do I set?
How much do I get?
What time is lunch?
When can I quit?”

“Gimme back that wheel,” says GOD.
“I don’t think you’re quite ready YET.”

god_s-wheel

Summary:

This is a short, simple and sweet poem where words run at random in a freestyle.

The poet beautifully summarizes the concept of Creation.

Mankind is all the while grumbling about the have-nots rather than feel happy with the haves. It is never content with the way the world goes. It intermittently voices out some opinions as to how the world should have been created and how it should move on. We need to realize the fact that God, the Omniscient, alone knows the way of the world.

The poet seems to have understood the potency of our Creator. Initially, maybe he might have had his own doubts and displeasures regarding this existence. He then wonders if he is made the captain if he would be able to set right everything here. At the flash of this thought, he is reduced to a miniature being.

God’s job is endless for He tirelessly works for the welfare of humanity. The modern way of nut-shelling God’s job would be 24/7. Man can think only in terms of salary and break. No one knows the beginning and end of life, or for that matter what goes on during the survival here in this world.

Though it is difficult to conceive God’s plans we should whole-heartedly admit that Just are the ways of God to Man. There is just one Best Captain to steer well and to steer clear the evils of society and that is God and God alone.

7

A Boy Named Sue

 Grammy Award, 1970

Poem:

Well, my daddy left home when I was three,
and he didn’t leave much to Ma and me,
just this old guitar and a bottle of booze.
Now I don’t blame him because he run and hid,
but the meanest thing that he ever did was
before he left he went and named me Sue.

Well, he must have thought it was quite a joke,
and it got lots of laughs from a lot of folks,
it seems I had to fight my whole life through.
Some gal would giggle and I’d get red
and some guy would laugh and I’d bust his head,
I tell you, life ain’t easy for a boy named Sue.

Well, I grew up quick and I grew up mean.
My fist got hard and my wits got keen.
Roamed from town to town to hide my shame,
but I made me a vow to the moon and the stars,
I’d search the honky tonks and bars and kill
that man that gave me that awful name.

But it was Gatlinburg in mid July and I had
just hit town and my throat was dry.
I’d thought i’d stop and have myself a brew.
At an old saloon in a street of mud
and at a table dealing stud sat the dirty,
mangy dog that named me Sue.

Well, I knew that snake was my own sweet dad
from a worn-out picture that my mother had
and I knew the scar on his cheek and his evil eye.
He was big and bent and gray and old
and I looked at him and my blood ran cold,
and I said, “My name is Sue. How do you do?
Now you’re gonna die.” Yeah, that’s what I told him.

Well, I hit him right between the eyes and he went down
but to my surprise, he came up with a knife
and cut off a piece of my ear. But I busted a chair
right across his teeth. And we crashed through
the wall and into the street kicking and a-gouging
in the mud and the blood and the beer.

I tell you I’ve fought tougher men but I really can’t remember when.
He kicked like a mule and bit like a crocodile.
I heard him laughin’ and then I heard him cussin’,
he went for his gun and I pulled mine first.
He stood there looking at me and I saw him smile.

And he said, “Son, this world is rough and if
a man’s gonna make it, he’s gotta be tough
and I knew I wouldn’t be there to help you along.
So I gave you that name and I said ‘Goodbye’.
I knew you’d have to get tough or die. And it’s
that name that helped to make you strong.”

Yeah, he said, “Now you have just fought one
helluva fight and I know you hate me and you’ve
got the right to kill me now and I wouldn’t blame you
if you do. But you ought to thank me
before I die for the gravel in your guts and the spit
in your eye because I’m the nut that named you Sue.”
Yeah, what could I do? What could I do?

I got all choked up and I threw down my gun,
called him pa and he called me a son,
and I came away with a different point of view
and I think about him now and then.
Every time I tried, every time I win and if I
ever have a son I think I am gonna name him
Bill or George – anything but Sue.

a-boy-named-sue

Summary:

The poem is an interesting piece about an estranged father who deliberately gives a feminine name, Sue, to his son, so as to make him tough and strong while facing the world.

Every person has a name as an identity that invariably goes on to define the personality. To some extent, it is a sign of pride as well, though we tend to approve of Shakespeare’s ‘What’s in a name?that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.’

It is quite amusing to note that the boy is not angry with the father for deserting him with Ma,‘just this old guitar and a bottle of booze’. He is upset with his father for naming him, Sue, to the extent that he vows to find him to seek revenge on him. The hurt is so deep and the thought so strong that he manages to find his father at an old saloon in Gatlinburg. He spurts out:”My name is Sue. How do you do?
Now you’re gonna die.”

They pick up a bitter quarrel and soon the father reasons out to the boy:
“Son, this world is rough and if
a man’s gonna make it, he’s gotta be tough
and I knew I wouldn’t be there to help you along.
So I gave you that name and I said ‘Goodbye’.I knew you’d have to get tough or die. And it’s
that name that helped to make you strong.”

The boy becomes appreciatively understanding of his father, yet decides not to name his son that way because of the trauma he has faced all through his life as recorded in the second and the third stanzas.

On the whole, it is a feel-good poem.

8

Forgotten Language

 Poem:

Once I spoke the language of the flowers,
Once I understood each word the caterpillar said,
Once I smiled in secret at the gossip of the starlings,
And shared a conversation with the housefly
in my bed.
Once I heard and answered all the questions
of the crickets,
And joined the crying of each falling dying
flake of snow,
Once I spoke the language of the flowers. . . .
How did it go?
How did it go?

forgotten-language

Summary:

The loss of innocence is recorded in this poem in a very sad note.

As a child the poet must have been fascinated with birds and insects and Nature in general. He may have spoken to them during times of loneliness. As he grew he might have understood the world better. He may not have been able to use the same ‘language of the flowers’. He might not have had time to appreciate God’s creation in this busy world.

The poem bears a simple thought and is written in a free verse.

9

One Inch Tall

 Poem:

If you were only one inch tall, you’d ride a worm to school.
The teardrop of a crying ant would be your swimming pool.
A crumb of cake would be a feast
And last you seven days at least,
A flea would be a frightening beast
If you were one inch tall.

If you were only one inch tall, you’d walk beneath the door,
And it would take about a month to get down to the store.
A bit of fluff would be your bed,
You’d swing upon a spider’s thread,
And wear a thimble on your head
If you were one inch tall.

You’d surf across the kitchen sink upon a stick of gum.
You couldn’t hug your mama, you’d just have to hug her thumb.
You’d run from people’s feet in fright,
To move a pen would take all night,
(This poem took fourteen years to write–
‘Cause I’m just one inch tall).

one-inch-tall

Summary:

The poem is highly imaginative. What if a person is just one inch tall? (Even Gulliver’s Lilliputians were six inches tall). The poet lists out funny images of the stuff that a person of such diminutive size may be able to do and those he may not be able to do.

The credit goes to his minute detailing. Maybe as a child or a little grown-up, this is the way he has observed the little insects. On the part of the poet, maybe there is a craving to be a little small to be able to move with such creatures. The repetition of the line ‘If you were only one inch tall…’ reiterates his longing to be puny.

The poet also realizes the hardship of being small, the arduous tasks one may have to undergo to keep up the existence. If we consider the poem as a metaphor, the poet may have contemplated of man as a spec in this Universe. There are quite a lot of ordeals he needs to face to be successful in this world.

The poem has a pattern in itself. It has three stanzas and each one consists of six lines. It also has a standard rhyme scheme with the first two lines and the next three lines in each stanza rhyming at the end – (school, pool; feast, least, beast); (door, store; bed, thread, head); (gum, thumb; fright, night, write).

On the whole, the poem is an audio-visual treat.

10

Where the Sidewalk Ends

Michigan Young Readers Award, 1974

Poem:

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.

where-the-sidewalk-ends

Summary:

The title of the poem is also the title of the book of a collection of Shel Silverstein Poems. The book shot to instant fame and gained the status of classics among the children’s literature.

The first stanza is obviously a dedication to nature and innocence alike. The description of nature is soft, white, bright and cool like that of the nature of a child, and sweet as a peppermint. The poet’s longing to remain a child or at least to retain the innocence of a child is explicit here.

…where the sidewalk ends – childhood; …before the street begins – adulthood.

The second stanza describes the urban setting of adulthood where the future is dark and black, for life becomes smoky and vague. There are winds and bends and pits in one’s journey of life. The poet warns us to keep our pace slow so to be able to watch the chalk-white arrows drawn by the children. As we grow, the poet wants humanity to hold on to goodness and not get lost in the milieu.

The usage of ‘moon-bird’ stands in sharp contrast with the asphalt flowers’ and adds some flavor to the theme.

The last stanza is not a mere repetition of the lines of the previous stanza, but a firm affirmation to the positive outlook of life. The poem, in short, reflects the chaste heart and the clear mind of the poet.

It is a spontaneous poem bereft of any rhyme scheme.


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