Shel Silverstein is one of the most well-known American authors and poets. With a wide selection of cartoons, songs, and children’s books, his work has sold over 20 million copies worldwide.
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Though much of his work was written for younger audiences, this author is not afraid of covering complex themes. Many of his works are used as funeral poems. One of his most important goals was to make his readers laugh and think critically about the world around them.
As he famously wrote, “There are no happy endings.” Still, his work brings people around the world hope and comfort in times of mourning. In this guide, we’ll highlight some of Shel Silverstein’s best poems about death. These are perfect for a funeral or memorial service, but they’re also just a way to feel less alone.
Shel Silverstein Poems About Death
Silverstein’s work often fell in the murky waters between adults and children. It was written with simplistic language, making it digestible for readers of all ages. Still, many of his work includes poems about death, though that doesn’t mean they have to be sad.
1. "Fred?" from Where the Sidewalk Ends
This poem describes the many different versions of a creature known as “Fred” and many other names to different people. Whether you call him “Maurice,” “Ted,” “Lucifer,” or “Fred,” this poem argues that it doesn’t matter because he’s still dead.
2. "Little Abigail and the Beautiful Pony" from A Light in the Attic
Little Abigail, unfortunately, dies because she doesn’t receive a pony from her parents. Though they claimed no child ever died from not getting what they want, that’s precisely what happens in this teasing poem.
3. “When I Am Gone” from Every Thing On It
Published after Silverstein’s death, this poem is a reminder that those we love never really leave us. Each line poses a new question, “When I am gone what will you do?” Though those we love might leave a space when they’re gone, this doesn’t mean we love them any less.
4. “Yessees and Noees” from Ever Thing On It
According to the poet, the world is full of 3 types of people. There are the “yessees” who say yes to everything. They died of “much too much.” Then, there are the “noees” who said no to everything until they died of fright.
Finally, there are the “Thinkforyourselfees” who all came out fine. Ultimately, this is a poem about the danger of not thinking for yourself. If you’re not careful, you could push yourself too far—even towards death. To live for yourself and on your own terms is to die without regret.
5. “Years From Now” from Every Thing On It
“Years From Now” is a 4-line poem that perfectly captures the power of legacy. Though the author can no longer see the reader’s face as they flip through their poems far into the future, they still are comforted knowing they’ll be remembered.
6. “Happy Ending?” from Every Thing On It
Last but not least, “Happy Ending?” is one of Silverstein’s most profound, memorable poems about death. He argues there is no such thing as a happy ending. They’re always “the saddest part.”
However, the ending isn’t what really matters. All he really needs is a “happy middle” and a “very happy start.” These are the memories we’ll look back on. Life isn’t always perfect, and death is still sad, but these happy memories are what count most of all.
Shel Silverstein Poems for a Funeral, Memorial, or Eulogy
If you’re planning a memorial service or writing a eulogy, using a poet’s work can often say what’s hard to put into words. Whether you’re honoring how someone lived their life or showing the power of legacy, these are the perfect poems.
7. "Poet’s Tree"
For someone who always knew what mattered most, “Poet’s Tree” is an ode to them. Though it’s easy to get swept up in the chaos of life and one’s responsibility, we should all remember to take a moment to “rest awhile” under the poet tree and escape from reality.
8. “How Many, How Much” from A Light in the Attic
Friendship takes many forms, but it’s often a give and a take. For someone who was always a valued friend, “How Many, How Much” is the perfect reminder that we all have more love to give to those that deserve it the most.
9. "Masks" from Every Thing on It
In this somber poem, Silverstein shares the brief story of two strangers who spent their lives searching for something hidden behind their own masks.
Though they were perfect for each other, they never knew it because they were afraid to show their true selves. This work stands as a reminder to live authentically for oneself.
10. “Listen to the Mustn’t’s” from Where the Sidewalk Ends
In life, we’re often told there are things we shouldn’t do or limitations to how far we can go. “Listen to the Mustn’t’s” argues just the opposite.
Silverstein writes, “Listen to the NEVER HAVES, Then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. ANYTHING can be.” One of Silverstein’s most quoted poems, this is an ode to doing the impossible.
11. “Lester” from Where the Sidewalk Ends
Another poem that’s perfect for a funeral, memorial, or eulogy is “Lester.” Though it’s easy to fill our lives with material possessions and things, wealth doesn’t equal happiness.
Through the story of Lester, a man who was given a wish and continued to wish for more wishes, it’s clear that you can waste your time away wanting instead of living.
12. “Magic” from Where the Sidewalk Ends
Anyone can create their own magic, but you have to believe in yourself to make it happen. Silverstein sums it up in a single phrase, writing, “But all the magic I have known I’ve had to make myself.” Though we’re responsible for our own magic and our own success, this is true freedom to be proud of.
13. “Diving Board” from Falling Up
New challenges can often bring out the best of us. Though life sometimes resembles an intimidating diving board, and it’s easy to do “everything but dive.” In moments like these, you have to just jump into the unknown and trust that things will be okay.
14. “I Won’t Hatch” from Where the Sidewalk Ends
This poem follows a chicken who lives in an egg, afraid to hatch and face the world. Though the hens and roosters make fun and encourage the chicken to free itself from the egg, he’d much prefer to stay where it’s safe, warm, and familiar. By the end, we’re all reminded that you can’t live life in fear.
15. “Put Something In” from A Light in the Attic
The world is full of seriousness, Silverstein argues. We need people who aren’t afraid to color outside the lines or do something new. Whether you “draw a crazy picture” or “do a loony-goony dance,” the poet argues everyone should put something silly in the world without fear.
16. “Colors” from Where the Sidewalk Ends
Though we can define people by their skin, hair, and eye color, this is only one side of the story. Our real colors, the ones that matter, are what’s inside. These colors haven’t even been invented yet, and that’s what makes up our legacies.
Share the Gift of Poetry
Poetry is a way of using words to paint pictures, draw comparisons, and share emotions that are hard to express. Though they can have many interpretations, Shel Silverstein is one of the most talented poets of the 20th century. His work lives on in readers everywhere, and it’s easy to see why they’re commonly used at funeral and memorial services.
Whether you’re drawn to his works about life or relationships, there’s truly something for everyone in his collection. Though intended for children, these poems are for everyone of all backgrounds and walks of life. His work is living proof that even simple words mean so much more.
- “About Shel.” Shel Silverstein. ShelSilverstein.com.