Listen to the MUSTN'TS, child, Listen to the DON'TS, Listen to the SHOULDN'TS, The IMPOSSIBLES, the WON'TS; Listen to the NEVER HAVES, Then listen close to me — Anything can happen, child, ANYTHING can be.
Shel Silverstein (1930-1999) was best known as an author of offbeat children's poetry. He also wrote picture books, songs, song lyrics (most famously "A Boy Named Sue"), one-act plays and films. Fans of his mainstream work may be rather stunned to hear that many of his songs are very adult in tone, and that he personally was a real-life Chick Magnet who lived for several years in the actual Playboy Mansion. He died from a heart attack in May 1999 and was buried in a Chicago cemetery.His works include:
A Light in the Attic (poetry collection)
Where the Sidewalk Ends (poetry collection)
Lafcadio, The Lion Who Shot Back (children's novel)
And underneath his fingers There's a little golden scroll That says, "Beware of being the roller When there's nothing left to roll."
And another, from "Perfect High":
"Well, that is that," says Baba Fats, sitting back down on his stone, Facing another thousand years of talking to God alone. "It seems, Lord," says Fats, "it's always the same, old men or bright-eyed youth, It's always easier to sell them some shit than it is to give them the truth."
Apocalypse How: Justified in "Hungry Mungry," when Mungry starts out by eating his parents, and then proceeds to go all the way up to Class X-4 by eating up the United States, the world, the universe, and finally himself!
Batman Gambit: In "A Boy Named Sue," the reason the father named him that is because he knew he wouldn't always be there for his son, so he named him Sue so he would grow up hardened and strong from being bullied and picked on.
Covers Always Lie: Where the Sidewalk Ends has a cover drawing with two children and a dog peering over the edge of the earth. It is from a poem in the book called "The Edge of the World." There is, however, a poem called "Where the Sidewalk Ends" is about the grassy spot between the sidewalk and the street, and has no illustration in the book.
The poem "Fear (Barnabas Browning)," where the title character is so afraid of drowning that he refuses to leave his room. He dies by literally crying an ocean and drowning in his own tears.
The poem "Ladies First," in which Pamela Purse is always using the title excuse for her selfishness. When the group gets caught by cannibals and are about to be eaten by the king, she still goes, "Ladies first!"
In the poem "Lester", the title character gets Three Wishes. He turns out to have some levels of smartassery, as he starts spending his wishes on more wishes. Somehow he dies at the end.
Dem Bones: In "Day After Halloween," a salesman offers low prices on "skeletons, spirits and haunts"; he's overstocked with them now that the holiday's over.
A Dog Ate My Homework: The narrator of "Blame" says he wrote an extremely wonderful book, but a goat ate it. He wrote a new book in a hurry, but it's not as good as the first one, so he tells people to blame the goat if they don't like the second book. Whether a goat really did eat the book is ambiguous. On one hand, it sounds a lot like a tired old excuse; on the other hand, the poem's illustration is a grinning goat with ripped book pages in its mouth, so maybe he's telling the truth after all.
Killer Rabbit: "Sybil The Magician's Last Show." The eponymous magician can't be bothered to buy food for her rabbit, so when she goes to pull him out of her hat one night, he pulls her into the hat and eats her.
Multiple Endings: The poem "Hippo's Hope" concerns a hippopotamus who attempts to fly off a mountain and has three different endings: Happy (the hippo succeeds and soars off into the clouds); Unhappy (the hippo fails and plummets down the mountain breaking all his bones); and Chicken (the hippo turns around and goes home to have cookies and tea).
Nice Hat: Averted with this short rhyme: "Teddy said it was a hat; so I put it on. Now Dad is saying, 'Where the heck's the toilet plunger gone?!'"
No Ending: A number of his poems end with the story unresolved, such as "Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout." This trope was the whole point of his poem "Suspense," where a Damsel in Distress is Chained to a Railway by one villain, while The Hero is being held prisoner by another. And then a fifth character shows up, and it's unclear whether he's a hero or villain...
And a crash and a cry, And I'm sorry but I Have forgotten the rest of the story.
Not a Mask: The poem "Best Mask?" is a rare example where the maskless person is the narrator.
Nothing Is Scarier: Sarah's demise at the end of "Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout (Would Not Take the Garbage Out)", letting the reader's imagination run wild.
And there, in the garbage she did hate, Poor Sarah met an awful fate, That I cannot now relate Because the hour is much too late.
Rockstar Song: "The Cover of the Rolling Stone," as performed most famously by Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, is a parody of this trope; the narrators complain that, despite living the rockstar lifestyle and making money hand over fist, they're not famous enough yet.
Sanity Slippage: The song "A Front Row Seat to Hear Ole Johnny Sing," where he goes to increasingly absurd lengths to get Johnny Cash tickets... and his delivery gets increasingly less sane throughout the song, to the point that he's practically screaming at the end.
Also a common interpretation of "The Ballad of Lucy Jordan". Marianne Faithfull, who recorded the definitive and most famous version, believed it ended with Lucy being taken to a mental hospital.
Scare 'Em Straight: "Little Abigail and the Beautiful Pony" ends with Abigail dead since she didn't get the beautiful pony. A note at the end suggests children should read it to their parents if they refuse to buy something for them.
Stripped to the Bone: A rare self-induced example in "It's Hot." It's an unpleasantly warm day, so the character removes his shoes to cool off. He's still hot, so he takes off all his clothes. When this doesn't help either, he takes off his skin and sits around in his bones. Then he despairingly exclaims, "It's still hot!"
Unintentional Period Piece: Many of his poems could be in any time period, but in a poem about a boy who watched so much television he turned into one, two knobs labeled "vert" (vertical) and "horiz" (horizontal) grow out of him - those picture control knobs haven't been standard on sets for many, many years.