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!
Skin Stealer - Buffalo Bill, Is That You?
Silverstein could be addressing shame and our need to displace blame. Or could he be depicting Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs? In this slightly horrifying tale of literally unzipping one's own skin, one could argue is a tale of split personality disorder manifesting itself in a child.
This evening I unzipped my skin
And carefully unscrewed my head,
Exactly as I always do
When I prepare myself for bed.
And while I slept a coo-coo came
As naked as could be
And put on the skin
And screwed on the head
That once belonged to me.
Now wearing my feet
He runs through the street
In a most disgraceful way.
Doin' things and sayin' things
I'd never do or say,
Ticklin' the children
And kickin' the men
And Dancin' the ladies away.
So if he makes your bright eyes cry
Or makes your poor head spin,
That scoundrel you see
Is not really me
He's the coo-coo
Who's wearing my skin.