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While I was growing up as a child, there were three authors whose works I read

devoutly. One was Dr. Seuss and I liked his books so much that I am proud to say

I have read every one published. The second author who had a profound impact on

me was Jan Bernstein who is responsible for that loveable family The Bernstein

Bears. The third is a poet, which is odd because I never have liked poetry. Shel

Silverstein?s children?s poetry books were the only poetry I read until I

was twelve and are the one?s I still enjoy the most today as a young man. Shel

Silverstein is known to most as the critically acclaimed children?s poet, and

before this project, I was unaware of the other things he had done. Shel

Silverstein also did cartoons, served for his country during the Korean War,

wrote folk songs, played the guitar, and probably most shocking to me, were his

poems and drawings for Playboy Magazine which depicted fairly gruesome sexual

acts as well as drug use, especially his own. Life experience seems to be the

influence for his NC-17 rated material but I was curious to who influenced his

witty, lyrical children?s pieces. When studying Silverstein?s poetry, you

can see how the nonsense subjects and rhymes look similar to Edward Lear?s

nonsense poetry of one hundred and fifty years earlier and how the poetry of

Ogden Nash, which Silverstein might have possibly read as a child, had

influences on Shel?s own pieces. However, the conclusion I have reached is

purely hypothetical. Shel Silverstein once said he had no influences on his

poetic style. In a 1975 interview with Jean Merciar, published in the February

24, 1975 issue of Publisher?s Weekly, Silverstein said, ?When I was kid- 12,

14, around there- I would much rather have been a good baseball player or a hit

with the girls. But I couldn?t play ball, I couldn?t dance. Luckily the

girls didn?t want me; not much I could do about that. So I started to draw and

to write. I was also lucky that I didn?t have anybody to copy, be impressed

by. I had developed my own style, I was creating before I knew there was a

Thurber, a Benchley, a Price and a Steinberg. I never even saw their work till I

was around thirty. By the time I got to where I was attracting girls, I was

already into work, and it was more important to me. Not that I wouldn?t rather

make love, but the work has become a habit? Even though Shel says nobody

influenced his artistic abilities it is hard to believe that. Especially when

you see how similar some of his pieces are to Edward Lear?s. One of the most

captivating things about Silverstein?s poetry is that a sketch that he himself

drew accompanies each one. They are usually funny, humorous sketches that add a

visual interpretation to the poem. I thought that only Silverstein used such a

technique but Edward Lear used the same idea during the 1850?s. Besides

similar artistic abilities they also made silly, goofy poems. Here?s an

example from Edward Lear: There was a Young Lady whose chin, Resembled the point

of a pin; So she had made it sharp, And purchased a harp, And played several

tunes with her chin. Along with that piece, there is a comical drawing of

exactly what the poem says, a lady with a pointy chin playing a harp. There is a

poem in Falling Up, by Shel Silverstein that uses the same techniques: Scale If

only I could see the scale, I?m sure that it would state That I?ve lost

ounces?maybe pounds Or even tons of weight. ?You?d better eat some

pancakes- You?re as skinny as a rail.? I?m sure that?s what the scale

would say? If I could see the scale. (Silverstein, p. 12) Of course there is a

sketch of a fat man standing on a scale he cannot see, done by Shel himself.

Besides being humorous pieces, there are other similarities you can derive. Both

poets use the same phrase they used to start and to finish their respective

poems. However, Edward Lear never took his poetry as far as Silverstein. Most of

Lear?s poems are five lines long and all have a rhyme scheme of AABBA and they

all repeat some form the first line for the ending. Basically, Silverstein

progressed on Lear?s ideas and form, as did Ogden Nash. Ogden Nash was a

children?s poet whose works were being published during Silverstein?s

childhood. Even though he says he never read them, you can?t help but notice

similarities once again. Nash was a master of light and whimsical verses, a

trait Silverstein had as well. Nash?s subject matter wasn?t quite as

juvenile and his poems occasionally use large vocabulary words like posterior.

Nash is probably best known for his four-line poem titled Reflections on

Icebreaking. Candy Is Dandy But liquor Is quicker Ogden had many pieces that

would later resemble Silverstein?s, like The Cow. The cow is of the bovine

ilk; One end is moo, the other milk. This poem is so incredibly simple it is

almost mind-boggling. Silverstein was a master of getting a point across with as

little words as necessary just like Ogden?s piece. STONE AIRPLANE I made an

airplane out of stone? I always did like staying home. Very simple, yet it is

an enough to make the reader understand the point. Another poem by Ogden Nash

that has a lot in common with Silverstein?s work, is his poem called The

Termite. It uses iambic pentameter with four measures per line and has a rhyme

scheme of AABB. Some Primal Termite knocked on wood And tasted it, and found it

good! And that is why your Cousin May Fell through the parlor floor today Shel

Silverstein has at least two dozen poems that follow this pattern but the one I

always liked is called Don the Dragon?s Birthday. Here he comes across the

lake. He?s comin? for his birthday cake. Sing ?Happy Birthday, Dragon

Don,? And watch him blow his candles?on. Silverstein also uses iambic

pentameter with four measures per line and follows the same rhyme scheme, AABB.

Other similarities between Nash and Silverstein include their choices of topics.

Both have numerous poems about animals, especially the little appreciated (the

termite) and the fictional (unicorns and dragons). Even though Silverstein says

her never read Nash or Lear their respective styles of poetry seem to have been

emulated by Silverstein in his work. Those are the main two influences on

Silverstein?s poetry. Even though he says he never read them, their

contributions to poetry paved the way for Shel Silverstein. Edward Lear and

Ogden Nash made silly poetry with no hidden metaphors acceptable to the critics

as well as mainstream America. They were, by far the two largest influences,

even though maybe not directly, on Silverstein?s poetry. Because of these

three men and Dr. Seuss funny, silly, lyrical verses and poems are now accepted

and even embraced by people all over the world.


1. Friday, Sely. http://195.114233.19/Silverstein/bio.html. 2/29/2000. 2.

http://www2.pair.com/mgraz/Lear/BoN/bon020.html. 3/5/2000. 3. Silverstein, Shel.

Falling Up, Scale. Harper Collins Publishers, New York City. P. 12 4. Nash,

Megan. http://www.westegg.com/nash/ice-breaking.cgi 3/5/2000. 5. Nash. http://www.westegg.com/nash/cow.cgi

3/5/2000 6. Silverstein p 49. 7. Nash http://www.westegg.com/nash/cow.cgi

3/5/2000 8. Silverstein p.54

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