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.


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:

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

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


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:

cartoon of a child leading an elephant sized cat on a leash

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:

a pointed spear is flying towards the goose


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:

cartoon elephant perched atop a girl's head

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, 2017 at 20:20
  • @Shokhet - I'm essentially asking if it's on the same level as the text.
    – Mithical
    Jun 21, 2017 at 20:22
  • This is a really good question. Great work!
    – user111
    Jun 22, 2017 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, 2017 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, 2017 at 17:13

2 Answers 2


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.


I discovered this post from the bygone ages of the Stack Exchange abyss, and I thought I could contribute an answer to it, so excuse my tardiness.

I most certainly agree that Shel Silverstein intended his poetry to be read devoutly with his delightfully morbid illustrations. And on the point of your question, here is some evidence of a poem (albeit shorter than usual) which entirely fails to succeed without the illustration:

enter image description here

"Draw a crazy picture, / Write a nutty poem, / Sing a mumble-gumble song, / Whistle through your comb. / Do a loony-goony dance / 'Cross the kitchen floor, / Put something silly in the world, / That ain't been there before." -Silverstein

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