Hug O’ War by Shel Silverstein

‘Hug O’ War’ was published in 1974 in Silverstein’s collection Where the Sidewalk Ends. The poem is characteristic of Silverstein’s poetry in that it is geared towards a younger audience and employees a clever play on words to get his point across. Using a tone that’s clear, calm, and appreciative the poet fosters an optimistic and loving mood. The poem delves into themes of respect, love, and friendship. 

 

Summary of Hug O’ War

‘Hug O’ War’ by Shel Silverstein is an uplifting piece of children’s poetry that encourages mutual respect and love, rather than competition or violence.

In the first lines of the poem, the speaker begins by making a declaration. The speaker will not play “tug o’ war” Rather, they intend to “play at hug o’ war”. This sweet play on words is the beginning of a series of suggestions that everyone should join him and spend more time cuddling, hugging, grinning and being happy than competing with one another. 

You can read the full poem here.

 

Structure of Hug O’ War

Hug O’ War’ by Shel Silverstein is an eleven lines poem that’s contained within a single stanza. The lines have examples of both full and half-rhymes. The latter are those most closely associated with a common idea of poetry. They appear at the end of lines and create an even sense of rhythm throughout a poem. This kind of rhyme is less common in contemporary poetry today than it has been in the past but it often characterizes children’s poetry. In ‘Hug O’ War’ Silverstein uses the rhymes “hugs” and “tugs” in lines three and four and “grins” and “wins” in lines nine and eleven. 

Half rhyme, also known as slant or partial rhyme, is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line or multiple lines of verse. For example, at the end of line six and ten with “giggles” and “cuddles”. Or, with the assonant connection between “cuddles” and “rug,” the latter appearing in line seven. 

 

Poetic Techniques in Hug O’ War

Silverstein makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Hug O’ War’. These include repetition, anaphora, epistrophe, alliteration, and enjambment. The first, repetition, is the use and reuse of a specific technique, word, tone or phrase within a poem. Repetition of single words and the structure of individual lines is quite obvious in this particular piece. The word “everyone” appears three times and the phrase “Where everyone…” begins three our of the eleven lines, a perfect example of anaphora. Additionally, there is a similarity in the structure between lines one and two. 

Anaphora, as mentioned in reference to repetition, is when word or phrase is used at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. “Where everyone” is one example, as is “And everyone”. 

Epistrophe is the repetition of the same word, or a phrase, at the end of multiple lines or sentences. For example, “war” in lines one and two. There are also examples of alliteration. It occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For instance, “rolls” and “rug” in line seven. 

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. There is a good example in the transition between lines three and four. 

 

Analysis of Hug O’ War

Lines 1-5 

In the first four lines of ‘Hug O’ War,’ the poet’s speaker begins by saying that he’s not going to “play at tug o’ war”. Rather, he’d like to “play at hug o’ war”. This variation on the game is quite simple. The entire premise is rearranged so that rather than tugging and competing with one another they hug. 

 

Lines 6-11 

The final six lines of the poem utilize repetition to get across the poet’s message to his young audience. He wants everyone to spend more time giggling and kissing, grinning, and cuddling. Then, when the game is over, there is no winner or loser. Instead, “everyone wins”. 

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