Considering his colorful life, it makes sense that there are some dark Shel Silverstein poem meanings, as well as some deeply witty and intentionally creepy Shel Silverstein stories. The man was certainly offbeat, if not extraordinary. He was unflinching and one of the most relatable children’s writers in the world.
Silverstein lived a far-from traditional life. He wrote some pretty raw songs, illustrated cartoons for Playboy, hung out with Hugh Hefner, and allegedly slept with hundreds of women. He never married but had two children with a former Playmate. Tragically, he lost his 11-year-old daughter to a brain aneurysm.
The meanings behind Shel Silverstein poems and stories are debated to this day, but it's undeniable that some were inspired by his weird and complex life. Are Silverstein’s poems and stories a safe place to dream, ponder extreme possibilities, and question the morals of society? Or was he promoting drug use, cannibalism, disrespect for authority, violence, anarchy, and the occult?
Let’s put it to a vote. Which of these Silverstein stories or poems strike you as the creepiest?
The Father of a Boy Named Sue
Silverstein wrote a follow up to his famous song "A Boy Named Sue" and it got weird on many levels. Fans of Cash’s version were not exactly happy with this explanation. While "A Boy Named Sue" was cruel for its own set of reasons, the prequel song describes an absent and emotionally abusive father who takes revenge out on his son by calling him by a girl's name.
Silverstein wrote an intro to the song, “Okay, now, years ago, I wrote a song called ‘A Boy Named Sue,’ And, that was okay and everything except, then I started to think about it, and I thought, It is unfair. I am, I am looking at the whole thing from the poor kid's point of view. And as I get more older and more fatherly, I begin to look at things from old men's point of view. So, I decided to give the old man equal time. Okay, here we go…”
Yeah, I left home when the kid was three
And it sure felt good to be fancy free
Though I knew it wasn't quite the the fatherly thing to do
But that kid kept screaming and throwing up
And pissing in his pants till I had enough
So just for revenge I went and named him Sue
It was Gatlinburg in mid July
I was gettin drunk but gettin by
Gettin old and going from bad to worse
When through the door with an awful scream
Comes the ugliest queen I've ever seen
He says, "My name is Sue, how do you do?"
Then he hits me with his purse
Now this ain't the way he tells the tell
But he scratched my face with his fingernails
And Then he bit my thumb
And kicked me with his high heel shoe
So I hit him in the nose and he started to cry
And he threw some perfume in my eye
And it sure ain't easy fightin an old boy named Sue
So I hit him in the head with a cane back chair
And he screamed, "Hey dad, you mussed my hair!"
And he hit me in the navel and knocked out a piece of my lint
He was spittin blood, I was spittin teeth
And we crashed through the wall and out into the street
Kickin and gouging in the mud and the blood and the creme de menthe
Then out of his garter he pulls a gun
I'm about to get shot by my very own son
He's screaming about Sigmund Freud and looking grim - woo
So I though fast and I told him some stuff
How I named him Sue just to make him tough
And I guess he bought it cause now I'm living with him
Yea he cooks and sews and cleans up the place
He cuts my hair and shaves my face
And irons my shirts better than a daughter could do
And on the nights that I can't score
Well, I can't tell you any more
But it sure is a joy to have a boy named Sue
Yeah a son is fun but it's a joy to have a boy named Sue!
Dreadful - Baby Eating
The title on this one needs no explanation - this poem is literally about eating a baby.
Someone ate the baby.
It's rather sad to say.
Someone ate the baby
So she won't be out to play.
We'll never hear her whiney cry
Or have to feel if she is dry.
We'll never hear her asking "Why?"
Someone ate the baby.
Me-Stew - Suicide and Cannibalism
If "Ladies First" got people’s goat, this one sure is bound to make off with a herd of them. This poem’s got hunger and subsequent suicide by cannibalism. Who’s ready for bedtime?
I have nothing to put in my stew, you see,
Not a bone or a bean or a black-eyed pea,
So I'll just climb in the pot to see
If I can make a stew out of me.
I'll put in some pepper and salt and I'll sit
In the bubbling water--I won't scream a bit.
I'll sing while I simmer, I'll smile while I'm stewing,
I'll taste myself often to see how I'm doing.
I'll stir me around with this big wooden spoon
And serve myself up at a quarter to noon.
So bring out your stew bowls,
You gobblers and snackers.
Farewell--and I hope you enjoy me with crackers!
Cloony the Clown - Abject Loneliness and Despair
Silverstein understood the human condition. He seemed to also deeply understand the nature of comedians and the darkness of clowns. In this poem, Silverstein illustrates the sad tale of a clown no one laughs at, and who is pathetic and sad. The worst part? The audience only laughs at the clown's gag when he's hurting himself on accident. What a twisted group of people.
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.