Whatif | A Poem by Shel Silverstein

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whatif by shel silverstein
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Whatif by Shel Silverstein

The Poem | The Poet | 20 What-ifs | Poem Analysis

Last night, while I lay thinking here,
some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
and pranced and partied all night long
and sang their same old Whatif song:
Whatif I’m dumb in school?
Whatif they’ve closed the swimming pool?
Whatif I get beat up?
Whatif there’s poison in my cup?
Whatif I start to cry?
Whatif I get sick and die?
Whatif I flunk that test?
Whatif green hair grows on my chest?
Whatif nobody likes me?
Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?
Whatif I don’t grow taller?
Whatif my head starts getting smaller?
Whatif the fish won’t bite?
Whatif the wind tears up my kite?
Whatif they start a war?
Whatif my parents get divorced?
Whatif the bus is late?
Whatif my teeth don’t grow in straight?
Whatif I tear my pants?
Whatif I never learn to dance?
Everything seems well, and then
the nighttime Whatifs strike again!

~ by Shel Silverstein

what if by Shel Silverstein
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  1. What if there is a world war right now?
  2. What if in the middle of the pandemic there is an alien attack?
  3. What if I am the last one left after the doomsday, to roam around lonely in the universe?
  4. What if that ‘orange cotton candy’ becomes the president of the world for an indefinite term?
  5. What if Chinese colonize the whole world?
  6. What if, after Harry Potter destroyed the elder wand at the end of the Deathly Hallows. In the last scene, he woke up on his broken bed at the cupboard under the stairs. He stretched his arm, and said to himself “that was a long dream, feels like, I’ve been sleeping for over a decade”.
  7. What if there was a zombie apocalypse happening for real?
  8. What if there is a sudden price increase of all the necessities, multiple times, the next morning when I wake up?
  9. What if the scientist trying to work out the ways to step out of this planet, could figure out how to complete kessel run in 12 parsecs?
  10. What if you woke up one morning and no one around you knew English (or any other language you could communicate in)?
  11. What if one day you woke up as an extremely famous person and extremely poor at the same time?
  12. What if one day you woke up and all the food on earth disappeared? Also, if food was no longer necessary to maintain your body, its nutrients and energy.
  13. What if you got deserted on an island with a person you hate the most?
  14. What if you met a Genie and he granted you a wish?
  15. What if you wasted that wish by asking him, “I wish to know, if all this is real?” in excitement?
  16. What if your best friend or your parents got an invisibility cloak and could enter and go out of your room anytime they wished, without getting noticed?
  17. What if gravity slowly started disappearing?
  18. What if I suddenly came to know that, everything that I do or even think was predetermined?
  19. What if ghosts were real?
  20. What if one day you woke up and everyone around you was laughing hysterically?  (If that happened to me, I would join the movement).

Whatif by Shel Silverstein at Updivine.com
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Sheldon Allan Silverstein (September 25, 1930 – May 10, 1999) was an American writer known for his cartoons, songs, and children’s books. He styled himself as Uncle Shelby in some works. His books have been translated into more than 30 languages and have sold more than 20 million copies. He was the recipient of two Grammy Awards, as well as Golden Globe Award and Academy Award nominations.

Silverstein’s editor at Harper & Row, Ursula Nordstrom, encouraged Silverstein to write children’s poetry. Silverstein said that he had never studied the poetry of others and had therefore developed his own quirky style, laid back and conversational, occasionally employing profanity and slang.

Silverstein’s “A Boy Named Sue” won a 1970 Grammy. He was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe Award for his song “I’m Checkin’ Out” in the film Postcards from the Edge.

Together with longtime friend and producer Ron Haffkine, he released “Where the Sidewalk Ends” on cassette in 1983, and as an LP phonograph record in 1984, winning the 1984 Grammy Award for Best Recording For Children.

He was posthumously inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002. Silverstein was inducted into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame in 2014.

To read more about Shel Silverstein, click here.

‘Whatif’ is an extremely adorable poem that describes the fears and struggles of a child that leaves him sleepless during the night. He is daily haunted by these terrifying questions during the night.

There are twenty “what if’s” mentioned in the poem. A normal adult might laugh off reading them. But these questions scare the shit out of this little child. That leaves us with a particularly important message. As you grow older, your biggest fears, that were once petrifying you, start to seem like a thing of mockery. And growth isn’t always about age, it sometimes is about maturity. Shel Silverstein in this poem talk about 20 such “what if’s”, some really serious matters, and some lighter ones. He keeps switching between the two.

Overall, despite all the fears being discussed, the mood of the poem remains joyful. This is pretty much evident from the fact that he begins by calling it the “Whatif song” in the fourth line. This poem is a playful presentation of the fears, the uncertainties, and the struggles that haunt Shel Silverstein during the night.

The poem maintains the rhyming scheme of AABB throughout.

To read more famous poems by the finest writers ever, click here.

whatif by shel silverstein
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1 Comment

  1. Reading this lovely poem, I was thinking on parallels from our childhood. We had familiar whatifs, I remember. This poem gives a great glimpse of the typical fears of children and their typical time, as well. I enjoyed it very much.

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