19 Creepy Meanings Behind Shel Silverstein Poems and Stories

Voting Rules
Vote up the creepiest hidden (or sometimes wildly obvious) meanings of any poems or stories written by Shel Silverstein.

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?

Photo: Harper Collins

  • 1
    2,691 VOTES

    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! 

    2,691 votes
  • 2
    2,267 VOTES


    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.

    2,267 votes
  • 3
    1,790 VOTES


    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! 

    1,790 votes
  • 4
    1,287 VOTES

    Skin Stealer

    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.

    1,287 votes
  • 5
    1,106 VOTES

    Ticklish Tom

    Tom loves being tickled. And it leads to his untimely death via a train. This morbid tale starts off light and fun and, like many of Silverstein's stories, takes a dark twist at the end. 

    Did you hear 'bout Ticklish Tom?
    He got tickled by his mom.
    Wiggled and giggled and fell on the floor,
    Laughed and rolled right out the door.
    All the way to school and then
    He got tickled by his friends.
    Laughed till he fell off his stool,
    Laughed and rolled right out of school
    Down the stairs and finally stopped
    Till he got tickled by a cop.
    And all the more that he kept gigglin',
    All the more folks kept ticklin'.
    He shrieked and screamed and rolled around,
    Laughed his way right out of town.
    Through the country down the road,
    He got tickled by a toad.
    Past the mountains across the plain,
    Tickled by the falling rain,
    Tickled by the soft brown grass,
    Tickled by the clouds that passed.
    Giggling, rolling on his back
    He rolled on the railroad track.
    Rumble, rumble, whistle, roar—
    Tom ain't ticklish any more.

    1,106 votes
  • 6
    958 VOTES

    Little Abigail and the Beautiful Pony

    The dark darkness of this poem comes with a signature Silverstein wryness. An elementary school in Texas banned the poem because of its implied content. Second graders probably didn't get Silverstein’s sarcasm or irony. In any case, the school board wasn’t having it. Concerned parents claimed the poem glorified suicide. 

    And Abigail began to cry and said,
    “If I don’t get that pony I’ll die.”
    And her parents said, “You won’t die.
    No child ever died yet from not getting a pony.”
    And Abigail felt so bad
    That when she got home she went to bed,
    And she couldn’t eat,
    And she couldn’t sleep,
    And her heart was broken,
    And she DID die—
    All because of a pony
    That her parents wouldn’t buy.

    958 votes