The poem uses repetition consistently throughout its five stanzas. A refrain, “And they won’t let us show it at the beach” is used numerous times, reiterating the fact that for some reason, nudity isn’t universally allowed outside on the beach. The use of “it” to describe the concealed parts of one’s body is an interesting one. It plays into the taboo, ensuring that readers have to use basic deduction to figure out what he’s talking about.
Explore Show It At the Beach
‘Show It At the Beach’ by Shel Silverstein is an interesting poem that considers the times that nudity is and isn’t appropriate.
The speaker only refers to nudity as “it” throughout the poem, emphasizing the taboo nature of this natural human state. He takes the reader through some of the places and times that one can be naked and contrasts those with the fact that you can’t be naked on the beach. This forms the basis for the poem. The poet uses repetition, creating refrains and emphasizing the debatable nature of the way things are.
You can read the full poem here.
Oh they won’t let us show it at the beach no they won’t let us show it at the beach
They think we’re gonna grab it if it gets within our reach
In the first stanza of ‘Show It At the Beach,’ the speaker starts b repeating the same phrase twice. This is the refrain that appears several more times throughout the rest of the poem. He alludes to something, “it,” that one can’t show on the beach because if it’s “within our reach” we’re going to “grab it.” Or, so “they” think. The speaker never gets much more specific about this when speaking about “it” and “they.” It’s up to the reader to use context clues to figure out exactly what he’s referring to. The following stanza provides a few more details.
But you can show it in your parlor to most anyone you choose
You can show it at a party with your second shot of booze
Ah they won’t us show it at the beach
Using repetition, including anaphora, the poet’s speaker notes some of the places you can “show it” and those you can’t. Again, you can’t show it on the beach but you can “show it in your parlor to most anyone you choose” and “at a party with your second shot of booze.” It’s with these lines that it becomes clear that this Shel Silverstein poem is not as child-friendly as some of his other work. The speaker is alluding to the parts of the body that are considered inappropriate to show in public, such as on a beach, but one can show whenever they want in the privacy of their own home.
Oh they’re sure we’re gonna grab it if it gets within our reach
The third stanza is only two lines long and it repeats the same thing that the first stanza noted. That “they” made these rules because they think that people can’t control themselves. The speaker doesn’t comment on whether or not he thinks they’re right but the repetition of this line suggests that he’s annoyed, or at least confused by the rules. Why should nudity be okay in one place and not another? What is it really about bodies that are so inappropriate?
But you can show it in the movies on the cineramic screen
You can show it in the most sophisticated magazine
The fourth stanza works in the same way as the second. It notes a few places nudity, to an extent anyway, is allowed and then repeats the fact that it’s not allowed on the beach. Naked photos are okay in “the most sophisticated magazine” and when kids are “bouncing on the high school trampoline” but you still can’t “show it at the beach.” It depends on the context, the speaker is noting, and who has made the rules. Societal norms dictate one thing is okay and the other is not.
But if you’ve got a gun it’s legal to display it on your hip
You can show your butcher knives to any interested kid
The fifth stanza contrasts some of the stranger things “you’re” allowed to do with the fact that you can’t be naked on the beach. You can carry a gun, show knives to children, and do all sorts of dangerous things. But still, nudity is seen as taboo in public.
Finally, readers might note the fact that the title of the poem is “Show It At the Beach” and not “Don’t” or “You Can’t Show It At the Beach.” This may suggest that the speaker is in fact on the side of increased freedom and acceptance of nudity in everyday life, at least in theory.
Structure and Form
‘Show It At the Beach’ by Shel Silverstein is a four-stanza poem that is separated into uneven stanzas. The first contains three lines, the second: six, the third: two, and the fourth and fifth: four each. These lines follow an interesting rhyme scheme. The first three are perfect rhymes. The second stanza rhymes: BBBACA and the third: AA. The fourth and fifth add in new end sounds, rhyming DDDA and EEEA.
Silverstein makes use of several literary devices in ‘Show It At the Beach.’ These include but are not limited to:
- Alliteration: can be seen when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of words. For example, “gonna grab” in line two of the first stanza and “second shot” in line two of the second stanza.
- Anaphora: occurs when the poet repeats the same word or words at the beginning of lines. For example, “You can show it” in stanza two.
- Imagery: can be seen when the writer makes use of especially interesting and engaging descriptions. For example, “while you’re bouncing on the high school trampoline” and “on the corner wearin’ overcoat and shoes.”
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two of the first stanza as well as lines one and two of the fourth stanza.
The purpose is to bring to attention the things that one is allowed to do and contrast them with the taboos around public nudity. Why is one thing allowed while another is not? How are the rules made and why did “they” make them?
The tone is considerate and at points, annoyed. The speaker takes the reader through the various things one can and cannot do. Through the use of repetition, it becomes clear that they’re somewhat frustrated, or at least baffled, by the rules.
The meaning is that there are rules that govern societal norms but they are uneven and strange. One should consider them clearly and why the world is the way it is.
The speaker is unknown. They could be a man or a woman, although the former is more likely. They’re thoughtful and have taken the time to consider society’s rules and regulations.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Show It At the Beach’ should also consider reading other Shel Silverstein poems. For example:
- ‘Where the Sidewalk Ends’ – discusses the differences between the adult world and the mind of a child.
- ‘Dirty Face’ – contains numerous amusing explanations, from a child speaker, as to the source of their dirty face.
- ‘Messy Room’ – uses amusing imagery and a constant rhyme scheme in order to get a simple message across.