Our Work is Our Play!
(Image courtesy of scriptoriumdaily.com)
Silverstein Silliness: Cure for What Ails Ya
The fall months always make me think of children’s books. I love children’s literature, it’s a bit of a personal passion of mine, especially the illustrated kind. Therefore, today I’ll talk on one of my favorite children’s authors, because I love just about all of his work. Shel Silverstein (read a few of his poems here) wrote some great children’s pieces, including absolutely brilliant poem books (illustrated), which are my favorite. I’m particularly drawn to the lack of seriousness, relatably childish and very charming in its own misfit way. Of course, one could dredge up symbolic meaning from these little bubbles of poetry and fun, but I hold his work in a non-strict respect, and refuse to see much out of his poems than what comes at face value – just the way I saw them the first time I read them so many years ago. To dig them up almost feels like defiling a shrine, tearing up a sacred document for the sake of analysis. They are charming because they are simple, even somewhat stupid at times, structured like a bumbling animal happened across the page and left tracks for where the words might fall or a child falteringly making up a sorry excuse for what really happened to that broken vase. That’s precisely why I love them so much. It’s difficult to explain exactly the charm of his works without a visual example, so I will include one of my favorite, short pieces.
The title is “Homemade Boat” and the text reads :
This boat that we just built is just fine—
And don’t try to tell us it’s not.
The sides and the back are divine—
It’s the bottom I guess we forgot. . .
The visuals that accompany the poems give them an extra pop!
(And on a side note, what a coincidence we both chose Silverstein! Proof of his influence right there.)
The Giving Tree: A Human Condition
The Giving Tree is a book written by Shel Silverstein. It is both sad and simple in its appearance. The book appeals to children as well as adults, offering lessons and discussions on happiness, unconditional love, taking, and receiving.
The book follows an apple tree, embodying a motherly figure, and a boy, who is called “boy” throughout the book by the tree. In his youth, the boy enjoys simply playing with the tree, for he isn’t in need of anything but happiness and the blissful presence of a youthful play and contentment. As time goes on, the boy grows older, and with that, so does his needs. Soon, the boy wants money. Unable to give the boy money, the tree offers him apples instead so the boy may sell them instead, attaining the money he needs. When the boy reaches adulthood, he wants a house. The tree cannot offer a house, so she offers the boy her branches. The boy takes them. Reaching middle age, the boy returns asking the tree for a boat. Unable to provide a boat, the tree offers the boy her trunk. He takes her trunk, and leaves her as a stump. Towards the end of the book, the boy returns as an old, tired man. What he asks for this time is a “quiet place to sit and rest.” The tree offers her stump, the old man sits down. The book ends with “and the tree was happy.”
Throughout this book, the apparent theme would be altruism. The tree continually is quick to offer parts of her to continue to see the boy happy, as he once was in his youth. Simply offering herself is what makes the tree happy. This represents an altruistic life, as well as unconditional love, as the tree doesn’t expect anything in return. As for the boy, he represents the human condition. He knew happiness once, in his youth, but as youth dies out, the adult grows needy. Ourselves as humans, mostly don’t lead an altruistic life, and we take and take, to ensure the overall pleasure of our own lives, and rarely think to give anything back, unless there is a chance of receiving in our rare giving. Shel shows us this, and that even close to death, we will always continue to want. The boy sought to fill these needs to with the one thing he knew would always be there, and would want to see him happy. So he received everything, up until there was nothing left of the tree.
I don’t know if there is something solid and concrete you can really walk away with after reading The Giving Tree. The first thing that comes to mind would be “don’t be a dick like this guy.” Start giving more than you’re receiving. But in the end, the tree was happy, I can’t say the same for the boy; he still was in “want/need” of something up until the end. Maybe that is true happiness; maybe the monks had it right. Everything lies in nothing. And maybe the altruistic life and unconditional love is what we as humans should really be striving for if we ever want to be truly “happy” in this world. A world seemingly void of easily attainable or long lasting pleasures, in this world of dogs, held by chains and eating the scraps thrown to us and biting at the ankles of each other.