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Shel Silverstein's poems are illustrated by himself. The illustrations often provide the 'punchline' of the poem, as in the following examples (all taken from Falling Up. Pictures are mine - feel free to replace them with better ones):

Safe

I look to the left,
I look to the right,
Before I ever
Move my feet.
No cars to the left,
No cars to the right,
I guess it's safe
To cross the street...

This poem is accompanied by this illustration:


This is a safe falling out of the sky onto the girl's head.

Unfair

They don't allow pets in this apartment.
That's not decent, that's not fair.
They don't allow pets in this apartment.
They don't listen, they don't care.
I told them he's quiet and never does bark,
I told them he'd do all his stuff in the park,
I told them he's cuddly and friendly, and yet -
They won't allow pets.

This is accompanied by this charming animal:

Web-Foot Woe

Us swans and geese
Have rotten luck.
You folks don't know
Whose name is whose.
I waddle in -
You all yell "Duck."
Can't you see
That I'm a goose?

With this pointed picture:

Imagining

You're only imagining
A mouse is in your hair.
You've got to stop imagining
That mice are everywhere.
I think you're just imagining
To give yourself a scare,
But trust me dear, I wouldn't lie:
There is no mouse up there.

With this slightly surprising picture:


I've made the point; there are more examples. So can these illustrations be considered part of the poem itself, as they are necessary to understand the poem?

  • I'm not sure I understand what you're asking. Maybe you could better define what you mean by "part of the poem"? – Shokhet Jun 21 '17 at 20:20
  • @Shokhet - I'm essentially asking if it's on the same level as the text. – user58 Jun 21 '17 at 20:22
  • This is a really good question. Great work! – user111 Jun 22 '17 at 0:25
  • @Shokhet are the illustrations there for decoration? Or do they change/contribute the meaning of the poem? When interpreting the poem, how should the illustrations be taken into account? – user111 Jun 22 '17 at 17:11
  • If that is the question, @Hamlet, then I think it's fairly obvious that they do change the meaning of the poem. Just look at all the examples that Mithrandir provided -- he practically answered the question himself. – Shokhet Jun 22 '17 at 17:13
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I'm going to say that with some of them, yes.

There are some of Silverstein's poems where the illustration is humorous but not required, such as "My Beard" (from Where the Sidewalk Ends):

My beard grows down to my toes,
I never wears no clothes,
I wraps my hair
Around my bare,
And down the road I goes.

While the picture of a little man wrapped in his beard running down the street is funny, you don't need it to understand the text. But in the examples you've cited, without the image, you literally can't understand the punchline (the safe falling, the elephant in the girl's hair).

So yes, for some of them (obviously you'd have to go through his work and read them to figure out which), the illustration is part and parcel of the text, and cannot be separated.

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