‘Happy Birthday to You!’ was published in 1959 and is considered to be the first all-color picture book. In it, the reader gets to explore the fanatical world of Katroo where a Birthday Bird throws a party for the reader. The story is narrated in the second person allowing the reader to be as much a part of the narrative as they want.
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Summary of Happy Birthday to You!
The poem follows the Birthday Bird and a series of celebratory images. These remind the reader that they are lucky to be who they are and they should appreciate it. There is no one like them in the world and that’s something to be happy about. If they weren’t born as they are they might’ve ended up as a bag of tomatoes or a toad in a tree, or worst of all, a “wasn’t!” The poem concludes with the speaker asking the reader to wish themselves a “Happy Birthday!” and always remember that they are special because there is no one else like them in the world.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure and Poetic Techniques in Happy Birthday to You!
‘Happy Birthday to You!’ by Dr. Seuss is a simple, three-stanza poem that is stretched over the sixty-four pages of the children’s book. The rhyme scheme throughout the poem is more consistent in some places than others. For example, there are several endings that rhyme with “you,” one of the most frequently used words in the book.
Seuss makes use of several poetic techniques in this poem as well. These include anaphora, enjambment, and alliteration. The latter, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example “baked” and “bag” in the first stanza and the general repetition of “wasn’t” in the second stanza.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For instance, the transitions between the final line of stanza two and the first of stanza three. It is emphasized further by the use of an ellipse.
Seuss also makes use of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. This technique is often used to create emphasis. A list of phrases, items, or actions may be created through its implementation. For example, “You might be a” at the start of several lines in the first stanza.
Analysis of Happy Birthday to You!
In the first stanza of ‘Happy Birthday to You!’ the speaker begins by addressing “you” the reader. This is not uncommon in Dr. Seuss’s books. It was often his choice to include the reader, who is usually a child (listening or themselves reading) within the narrative. The next line is a humorous one, asking the listener to consider what they would do if they’d never been born. This is meant to be funny but also stimulate the imagination about what could come next. Or, what kind of alternative there is to living in one’s own body.
In the next lines, there are examples of anaphora with the repetition of the words “You might be a” at the beginning of multiple lines. These are followed by short sentences that end with an exclamation point. They are exciting and strange, and still, as always, meant to be funny. The various ways of existing are juxtaposed against one another.
In the second stanza of ‘Happy Birthday to You!,’ the speaker goes on to say that there is another alternative, one that is even stranger and harder to comprehend than living as a bag of tomatoes. That is, being a “WASN’T!” This alludes to the possibility of nonexistence in a very child-friendly way. Luckily, the speaker says quickly, this isn’t the case. There is a good example of alliteration in the second to last line of the second stanza with “truer than true” and “Today”. An ellipse ends the second stanza and leads into the third.
The third stanza brings the poem to its conclusion, celebrating “your” life and your birthday. The speaker encourages the children reading/listening to celebrate themselves and be thankful they aren’t “just a clam or a ham”. This inspiring message comes in amongst surprising and amusing images that are quite Seussian in nature.