‘Snowball’ by Shel Silverstein is a short, eight line poem that is contained within one block of text. The lines follow a rhyme scheme of ABCBDEFE. There is enough repetition of rhyme in these lines to give it the sing song quality that is so closely associated with children’s poetry. But, not so much that it distracts from the content and the humorous twist at the end.
In regards to the meter, there is no pattern throughout the eight lines. That being said, the lines are all rather similar in length and syllable number. For example, lines one, five, six, and seven all contain seven syllables while the remainder are either six or eight syllables long.
Although this piece is short, Silverstein still makes use of a number of noticeable poetic techniques. For example, anaphora. This is a kind of repetition in which a word or phrase at the beginning of a line is repeated. Silverstein begins three of the eight lines with “I.” There are also moments of enjambment in which a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. This occurs most obviously and effectively between lines three and four.
Humorous endings to pieces of poetry is something Silverstein is quite well known for. The majority of his writing, at least that which is most commonly read, is directed towards a young audience. Many of the pieces progress towards a surprising or funny ending. In this case, the ending should not be a surprise, at least for the reader. The “twist” comes from the child’s interpretation of what has happened.
The fact that Silverstein crafted this piece in a way that allowed the reader to know more than the speaker attests to his ability to keep a young reader interested. One’s desire to continue reading should be piqued by the clear fact that the pet snowball is not going to turn out well.
As with much children’s poetry, there is a second level of content for an older reader to enjoy. In this case, Silverstein was discussing the fleeting nature of pleasure. Just like the child could not take his perfect snowball into the house, so too are human beings stymied in their attempts to remain constantly happy forever.
You can read the full poem here.
Summary of Snowball
‘Snowball’ by Shel Silverstein briefly tells of a child’s adventures with a perfect snowball and the consequences of bringing it inside.
The poem begins with the speaker describing how on one perfect day he went outside and made a snowball. Everything turned out right. This is not an easy task, but he accomplished it. It was “perfect” and he had no intention of throwing it away or giving it up.
Rather than leaving it outside or throwing it, as a child might normally do, this speaker decided to take it inside and try to keep it. The fact that it is going to melt does not seem to cross his mind during the decision making process. He is determined to prolong his happiness and believes he will be able to.
Once inside the child makes “pajamas” for the snowball as well as a pillow. He treats it as he would a friend or a pet. It also gets to sleep in bed with him. Everything was still going okay, that is, until the morning when he wakes up and interprets the snowball’s absence as a sign it ran away.
Analysis of Snowball
In the first lines of ‘Snowball’ the speaker begins with a simple statement. He went out into the snow and made himself “a snowball.” This a very straightforward situation. One that ideally many kids could relate to. The next line is similar in that regard. The snowball made was “perfect as could be.” One should consider when reading this piece how this line might come across to a young reader. The difficulty of making a perfect snowball is universal. Likely, a child would hear this and understand the importance of that accomplishment.
Additionally, the child would relate to the next two lines in which the speaker tries his best to keep the snowball. He is unwilling to destroy it or leave it outside. The perfection of his creation is too important to him. So, he decides to take it inside and “let it sleep with” him.
This is the point where a young reader will realize what’s going to happen. It is meant to be amusing, especially as it seems that the speaker has no idea what happens when you bring snow inside and put it in your bed.
In the next lines of ‘Snowball’ the speaker describes how, absurdly, he made “pajamas” for his creation. He wanted it to feel at home with him in his bed and that required putting on the proper clothes. It’s nearly impossible to imagine what pajamas for a snowball would be like. This is another aspect of the poem that is meant to entertain. The events are outlandish but still relatable to a child’s real life experience.
The predictable ending to the poem comes with the melting of the snowball over night.This is what one would expect to happen. What is surprising, is the way the child handles it. He does not think of the snowball as having melted, instead, he sees it as having left him. It “ran away.” This implies unhappiness and the eighth line perhaps even more so. The child feels the water in his bed and thinks that the snowball “wet the bed” before it left.