October 31, 2015

Learning from Shel Silverstein as an Adult.


One of the most therapeutic (and emotional) situations I’ve ever put myself in was when I decided to open up a Shel Silverstein book as an adult.

It was seven o’clock at night on a weekday, and the children whom I nanny for were in their pajamas, ready to wind down. We had gone to the library earlier that day and checked out a wide selection of books, one of which was A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein.

We squished onto the couch—my arms acting as headrests for them—and decided we should read some poetry.

Little did I know that this pre-bedtime book would have a different effect on me than any of the others.

You see, I was an avid Shel Silverstein reader as a child and at one point could recite an array of his poems by heart. But something (life?) happened during the decade and a half between my childhood and that early Wednesday night, and I found myself teary-eyed through most of our reading time.

The magic in his words is that they hold myriad tidbits of knowledge that seem to unfold as we age, and coming back to his poetry in adulthood is like coming back to a whole new set of writings that were there the whole time but are only now available to us. If you haven’t reread Shel Silverstein’s work as an adult, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

Three of my most cherished poems by him are Trampoline, The Nailbiter and Masks. Each addresses a particular facet of relationships.

An excerpt from Trampoline:

And so, as yet, we’ve never met
Because we’ve sadly found
That one is always goin’ up
While one is comin’ down.

This one hits home. When I read it as a child, I was struck by Silverstein’s description of the girl with a flower in her hair in the second verse, as I would stick one in mine whenever I got the chance. And so, I felt a connection to this poem in some small way.

But all these years later, realizing within my life the significance and presence of these sorts of relationships—the ones of the trampoline variety—my bond with this poem is much more from the heart. When I read it now, I am struck by the realness that is two people who simply cannot manage to truly connect—their lives intersecting briefly—if only for a second, and the fact that a daisy was mentioned in the second verse is merely superfluous.

An excerpt from Masks:

They searched for blue
Their whole life through,
Then passed right by—
And never knew.

The realization that we have all missed out on meaningful relationships due to the idea within our own minds that we are weird or unlovable or indecipherable, and that alone keeps us from being ourselves is a tough one to grasp, but that is what Silverstein illustrates in Masks. He explains that while we are hiding who we are, putting on a different face around others, we are passing up the opportunity to connect with beings who possess the same qualities, beings who could ultimately be lifelong companions.

An excerpt from The Nailbiter:

Yes, it’s a nasty habit, but
Before you start to scold,
Remember, I have never ever
Scratched a single soul.

I like to think of this one as a gentle reminder. It is easy to judge others for their less than admirable tendencies. The challenge comes when we push ourselves to look past these habits and instead focus on the character and morals of others. And more often than not, there is a sweet person in there, if we choose to see it.

Yes, these are classified as children’s poems. But they are fruitful for all, flowing with significant ideas to open our eyes and hearts.

So go ahead, read them to children. But read them to yourself as well.


Relephant favorite:

Inspirational Quotes from Magical Children’s Books.


Author: Jenna Meyer

Assistant Editor: Jan Farias / Editor: Caitlin Oriel

Image: daBinsi/Flickr

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