Essays

Shel Silverstein

Dmitry Samarov

Everything’s wrong,
Days are too long,
Sunshine’s too hot,
Wind is too strong.
Clouds are too fluffy,
Grass is too green,
Ground is too dusty,
Sheets are too clean.
Stars are too twinkly,
Moon is too high,
Water’s too drippy,
Sand is too dry.
Rocks are too heavy,
Feathers too light,
Kids are too noisy,
Shoes are too tight.
Folks are too happy,
Singin’ their songs.
Why can’t they see it?
Everything’s wrong!

The poem quoted here is “Mr. Grumpledump’s Song” by Shel Silverstein.

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Like all the best writers, Shel Silverstein could share complex ideas with simple words. He also knew how not to drone on or overstay his welcome. He didn’t waste time or space when he didn’t have to. This is one of the many reasons why his work continues to be loved by so many of us.

I was seven years old when my family moved to this country from the Soviet Union, so I didn’t grow up with Silverstein’s pictures and words. Those first few years I was just learning the language rather than enjoying its more nimble practitioners. The bedtime stories that were read to me were in Russian. Nevertheless, I was predisposed to appreciate Silverstein’s type of poetry because in the Soviet Union many of the best writers found their only means of expression through children’s literature. His wit, playfulness and melancholy were felt instantly familiar. As if I’d always known them.

Like Kharms, Marshak, and so many other writers both here and in the USSR, Silverstein never set out to write for children. He worked for Playboy and wrote raunchy songs for rock bands. He only turned to art and writing at all once it became clear he wouldn’t be in the starting lineup for his beloved White Sox. Though he did sell hotdogs at Comiskey for a time.

A couple months ago, in a bar on the North Side, I heard an essay read, offering yet another interpretation of The Giving Tree. I’d be willing to wager that the number of interpretations of that book now outnumber its total word-count. That’s as telling a tribute to Silverstein’s genius as any. His few precise words inspire thousands from his millions of readers.

He’s one of the ones who told us most eloquently what it’s like to be a person. To be unlike anyone else.

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The poem quoted here is “Colors” by Shel Silverstein

My skin is kind of sort of brownish
Pinkish yellowish white.
My eyes are greyish blueish green,
But I’m told they look orange in the night.
My hair is reddish blondish brown,
But it’s silver when it’s wet.
And all the colors I am inside
Have not been invented yet.

 

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