In ‘Needles and Pins’ Silverstein explores themes of adventure and escapism. Through language that is easy to understand and rhymes that are pleasing to hear and read, he creates images of a ship, its sail, and its crew. All of these are necessary for the adventure the speaker craves. The mood is optimistic and hopeful while the tone reads as almost needy, placing the speaker’s need to escape at the forefront of the reader’s mind.
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Summary of Needles and Pins
The poem takes the reader through a speaker’s desire to have a boat built, with a strong sail and a good captain and crew. This vessel, and those people, he hopes, will take him away from his life and allow him to encounter new things.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure of Needles and Pins
‘Needles and Pins’ by Shel Silverstein is a five stanza poem that is divided into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a simple rhyme scheme of AABA, changing end sounds from stanza to stanza. Although the rhyme scheme stays pretty consistent, but there are a few moments where it is looser, such as in stanza four with “whales,” “blue,” and “crew”. Where all three should rhyme but only the final two are.
This piece was aimed at a younger audience, therefore the sing-song-like rhythm of the lines is almost perfect. It is used to make the lines more pleasing to read as well as listen to. It also should help keep a child’s attention for longer. He also achieves this through the humorous nature of the content. The events of the poem should be relatable to the child hearing or reading it.
Poetic Techniques in Needles and Pins
Silverstein makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Needles and Pins’. These include but are not limited to repetition, alliteration, and enjambment. Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “Build” and “boat” in line three of stanza three and “Take” and “to” at the end of stanza five.
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 transition between lines three and four of the first stanza.
Repetition is the use and reuse of a specific technique, word, tone or phrase within a poem. In the case of ‘Needles and Pins’ this technique is very important. Whole phrases, such as that which makes the title, are repeated multiple times in the text, working as musical sounding refrains.
There are also examples of anaphora and epistrophe. The first is 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, words like “Needles,” “Sew,” and “Hammers”.
The latter, epistrophe, the repetition of the same word, or a phrase, at the end of multiple lines or sentences. For instance, “sail,” “nails,” and “crew”.
Analysis of Needles and Pins
Needles and pins,
To catch me the wind.
In the first stanza of ‘Needles and Pins,’ the speaker begins by repeating the title of the poem twice. This is part of a pattern of repetition that occurs in the odd-numbered stanzas. Each of these begins with a phrase being used twice. The speaker asks for the listener to find “needles and pins” and sew him a sail “to catch [him] the wind”.
This is a reference to a boat or ship and the desire to “catch” the wind in the sail. There are so few details that the sound and imagery become the most important parts of this poem.
Stanzas Two and Three
Sew me a sail
Strong as the gale,
Build me a boat
To go chasing the whales.
In the second stanza of ‘Needles and Pins’, the speaker is clearer with his instructions. He wants a sail to be sewn that will be able to handle the strength of the wind at sea. At the same time, they have to build a boat. One is not going to work without another. The next line of repetition is introduced at the end of this stanza “Hammers and nails”.
Hammers and nails are referenced again at the beginning of stanza three. It is the speaker’s intention that those listening to him build him a boat so that he can go out and chasing “the whales”.
Stanzas Four and Five
Chasing the whales,
Sailing the blue
Take me, oh take me
To anywhere new.
In the fourth stanza of ‘Needles and Pins’ he adds that he’s going to need a captain too. He’s not ultimately the one in charge in the future. He needs both a captain and a crew. There is a lot of work that needs to be done before he can go out to sea.
As if speaking to a recently located crew, he asks them to “Take” him anywhere new on the sea. He is seeking escape, travel, and new experiences and he doesn’t care where they begin.