‘Messy Room’ by Shel Silverstein is a a sixteen line poem contained within one block of text. Silverstein has chosen to imbue this piece with a consistent rhyme scheme. It follows the pattern of abcb, alternating as he saw fit within each set of four lines. While less common in contemporary poetry in general, rhyme schemes are still readily used within work aimed at a younger audience. Patterns of rhyme help with engagement and enhance the already pleasing images selected by the writer.
Another technique used by Silverstein in this text is that of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines. For instance, the possessive pronoun “His” begins seven of the sixteen lines. Another three of these begin with “And.” It is also interesting to note the third person perspective that is maintained throughout the first fourteen lines. It is finally broken in the last two as the speaker realizes the boy he has been speaking about is himself.
As is common within Silverstein’s poems, there is a pleasing twist at the end which gives the poem an additional layer of interest. In the final two lines it is revealed that the speaker has been describing his own “messy room” the entire time. While on its face ‘Messy Room’ is a simple and fun poem aimed at a young audience, there is an underlying theme warning against hypocrisy revealed through these lines. Silverstein uses humour, mixed with amusing imagery and the constant rhyme scheme in order to get a simple message across.
Throughout this piece the tone is light-hearted. Silverstein is not passing a harsh judgement on the speaker but instead making light of his situation in a way that should be pleasing to the reader. By the end of the poem a reader should feel about the room in the same way the speaker purports to. Once it is revealed that the room has belonged to the speaker all along, those emotions are redirected at the speaker, rather than an anonymous messy child or his space. You can read the full poem here.
Summary of Messy Room
‘Messy Room’ by Shel Silverstein is a humorous piece of children’s poetry that describes a young boy’s very messy room and all the chaotic items it contains.
The poem begins with the speaker exclaiming over the state of a room. First he describes the clothes that are hanging in places they definitely don’t belong. There is a wet raincoat on a cloth chair and underwear on a lamp. The next lines speak of misplaced books and papers, more clothes, and even a ski under the TV.
The lines progress in a list-like fashion, building off one another until the reader has a clear picture of what the room contains, By the end one should feel revulsion on a level equal to the speaker’s. This makes the twist at the end all the more satisfying as the room is revealed to have been the speaker’s all along.
Analysis of Messy Room
In the first set of lines the speaker begins by exclaiming over the state of a room. He says that the owner of this particularly room “should be ashamed!” It is in such a poor state that one should be embarrassed to have it seen by an outsider. This piece does not deal with any of the great traumas of adulthood, instead Silverstein speaks directly to his young audience on a subject they understand well. A messy room, and the consequence it brings, are infinitely relatable to his readership.
The following lines, as well as the majority of the text to follow, list out what it is about the room that is so disgraceful. Silverstein’s syntax is straightforward, making this an easy read for children and adults alike. The speaker describes underwater tossed thoughtlessly on a lamp and a chair soaking up water from a raincoat. This hints that the room is only growing worse. The longer the coat sits there the more “mucky and damp” the “overstuffed chair” will become.
The next three lines all begin with “His.” This choice forces the lines to build on top of one another. There is a “workbook” the boy has stuck in the window and a sweater on the floor. Then there is also a scarf and a single ski “beneath the TV.” Lastly he states that a pair of pants are hanging “on the door.” It is easy to get a picture of this fairly large room and the chaos it holds. Clothes are everywhere except for where they’re supposed to be and odd objects show themselves in even stranger places.
The next four lines proceed in the same way. They make another short list of the chaos the boy is fostering in his room. This time the speaker mentions “books” a “vest” and even a “lizard named Ed.” Finally, there is a gross sock that “has been stuck to the wall.” This implies that the sock has been there for a while, and must have been in a poor state even before it became stuck.
The speaker begins the thirteenth line by repeating the initial exclamation, shaming whoever lives in this room. He follows this line by suggesting three boy’s names but is interrupted by a listener who informs him that it is his own room he is criticizing. He is only slightly bothered by this fact and concludes with the humours statement that all the while was complaining about it, it “looked familiar”