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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Shel Silverstein's Deserted House

This is the first of two posts on Shel Silverstein. Silverstein wrote books and poems for children that often had adult themes. He performed many of his works publicly while accompanying himself on the guitar. His first big job was working as a cartoonist for Playboy, where he produced the material for his first book of original material, Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book, which is hilarious.
"H is for hole. See the hole. The hole is deep. You can bury things in the hole. See the toaster. You can bury the toaster in the hole. See the car keys. You can bury the car keys in the hole. See grandma's teeth. See daddy's shoe. See mommy's diamond ring. Oh-oh - little sister sees you burying things in the hole. Maybe she will snitch on you and you will get a licking. What ELSE can you bury in the hole?"
Or, my personal favorite:
"O is for Oz. Do you want to visit the wonderful far-off land of Oz where the wizard lives and scarecrows can dance and the road is made of yellow bricks and everything is emerald green? Well, you can't because there is no land of Oz and there is no Tin Woodsman and there is NO SANTA CLAUSE! Maybe someday you can go to Detroit."

But that is besides the point. His other most famous books were The Giving Tree, which will be a subject of a later post, and a series of books of children's poetry, including Where the Sidewalk Ends.

In the latter, the following poem appears (p. 56):


But please walk softly as you do.
Frogs dwell here and crickets too.

Ain't no ceiling, only blue
Jays dwell here and sunbeams too.

Floors are flowers-take a few.
Ferns grow here and daisies too.

Whoosh, swoosh-too-whit, too-woo,
Bats dwell here and hoot owls too.

Ha-ha-ha, hee-hee, hoo-hoooo,
Gnomes dwell here and goblins too.

And my child, I thought you knew
I dwell here... and so do you.
Here is a link to the audio of Silverstein reading the poem himself. The poem is accompanied by a black and white ink sketch of a house falling to ruins.

I suppose one could read many things into this poem, and a simple search will turn up all sorts of theories. But in our context, it seems clear that he is expressing the idea of vanitas.

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