“Masks” by Shel Silverstein


I was at Barnes & Noble with my son last night and made a surprising discovery: There’s a newly published book of poems by Shel Silverstein.  It’s called Every Thing On It, and is apparently a post-mortem collection of poems he wrote between his 1996 book Falling Up and his death in 1999.

As a big fan since childhood, I read through several poems and found one which I really wanted to share.  I took a picture of it so I could copy it later.

MASKS

(The picture on the page depicts two kids walking past each other, wearing VERY large masks that extend a long way above their heads.)

She had blue skin.
And so did he.
He kept it hid
And so did she.
They searched for blue
Their whole life through,
Then passed right by —
And never knew.

Immediately on reading the poem I thought, “Obviously, these are closeted atheists.”

Comments

  1. jdon says

    My interpretation was that is was a prophetic vision of the Na’vi in war paint.

    I like yours better.

  2. pietvrijdenker says

    Dear Mr/mrs. Silverstein, Kazim etc

    To promote skepticism/critical thinking I wrote some questions for the Christian believer. Are you able to put the link to these questions at your blog.

    Thank you very much,

    The original questions

    http://www.freethinker.nl/forum/viewtopic.php?f=31&t=8382
    The translation
    http://www.freethinker.nl/forum/viewtopic.php?f=31&t=10033
    The first one who did this, was Jonathan. This is a good example.
    http://www.limbicnutrition.com/blog/tough-questions-for-believers/

    By the way: The last part will be translated soon. Maybe you could recommend your readers to use google translate.

    Regards,

    Piet. (site admin freethinker Netherlands)

  3. Comment1 says

    From a little pang of sadness I felt I conclude it’s about love. But then it’s that kind of poem.

  4. says

    For those who were wondering what the masks look like:
    http://socialismartnature.tumblr.com/post/13807203032/photo-masks-by-shel-silverstein

    And I disagree with the OP in one small respect: yes, they’re closeted, but I don’t see anything to suggest they’re atheists. They could be any unpopular minority. Well, maybe not gay, since the poem does call them “he” and “she”. I’ve met people who acted dumber than they were, in order to be popular among their peers.

  5. Elipson says

    I was Barnes & Noble with my son last night…

    How does that work? Do you put on shelves and he dresses up as a counter? ;)

  6. 19Uhr30 says

    I don’t know if they are atheists but they are obviously smurfs!

    Wait… Do smurfs ever go to church? Because… well maybe smurfs ARE atheists…

    Okay… I have to go and write some atheist smurf fanfiction.

  7. davidct says

    As usual our interpretation of a poem tells us as much about ourselves as it does about the poem.

  8. says

    This poem is written in a way that the reader can interpret it the way he/she sees fit and it’s not wrong. This interpretation of it is just as valid as any.

  9. says

    It’s a great poem in that as some here have mentioned, it’s very open to interpretation by the reader. In Russell’s case, it could very well apply to the atheists he met in Florida who were so thrilled to talk to each other, because up until that time, they had each felt so isolated.

    On a deeper level, I think a lot people go around “wearing masks” and hiding their true selves. It speaks of a quiet desperation that could so easily be lifted with just a little bit of courage.

  10. Comment1 says

    I think it’s a noble attempt to prove that dinosaurs and humans didn’t coexist. It fails, but it fails well.

  11. DagoRed says

    I’m glad to hear someone else say that for a change. I am the exact same way. I also find song lyrics make me feel retarded as well (even when I like the tune), so I tend to be swayed far more by instrumental music or lyrical music where I don’t know the language (I know — weird) and I can simply appreciate the human voice as simply another instrument. I always figured I was born without that part of the brain that can appreciate language from an aesthetic perspective….

  12. BBB says

    I fully agree. I tend to like lyrics when they aren’t trying to take themselves too seriously, are made-up language, babble, foreign or just instrumental.

  13. Mary says

    I don’t think it has anything to do with being an atheist. I think it’s about being yourself and not letting your life pass you by hiding who you really are. And if you don’t look around you can miss what you’re looking for.

  14. Jewel-Mzuri Satchell says

    It could also be about Christians or any other religion.It could just be about human beings and their loss of true love. I love Shel Silverstein’s poetry and have shared it with my children, grandchildren and students. They seemed to love it too.

  15. says

    Unless you’re talking about Christians in, say, Islamist countries, I’d have to disagree, because the poem’s all about people who keep something about their true natures concealed, not realizing they’ve briefly met someone who actually shares that same hidden self. In America that applies far more to unbelievers than believers.

  16. Silverstein is GREAT says

    I love God and no I don’t want to force it down your throat. But man you’re missing out.

  17. Jake from State Farm says

    I do not understand at all how you got atheist from this- it just makes no sense. I understand your views but I’m pretty sure the two people are searching for someone like them- but they cover it up. If you could tell me where in this poem it says atheist, you let me know.

  18. nuvasoo says

    As in any artform, the interpretation of the poem will be different for each person. Arguing is pointless. Everyone who reads this will see “blue” as something different. Atheism, love, even violence or hatred.

  19. Jenkins "BAM" McKane says

    I think what people were trying to say is that Atheism may be somewhat of a minority religion, if you want to call it that since it is a lack off…, but people don’t usually go searching for partners that are specifically Atheist. You know what I’m saying? Or at least… I don’t know of many who are like “Oh man, I am an Atheist so my partner needs to be”. Nor do very many people hide it… in America anyway. In any case, I agree that the poem is most likely relating to being true to your identities and the sort.

  20. Teddy S says

    My personal interpretation was that it was about two people who pretended to hide behind societies norms, when they were perfect for eachother underneat. But they never found one another, because they pretended to be something they’re not.

  21. Gabriela says

    I just thought they were people who were different. You know, just people who felt they had something different about them that they felt they had to hide to be accepted. So they could be atheists. But also poems have different meanings to every person and a lot of authors like to leave things vague and open to interpretation. That’s why in school when interpreting books and poems they always tell you that there is no right or wrong answer. They ask you what you think about it because everyone has different opinions according to their life experiences.That’s why creativity is so valued, because you always have a different outlook on things.

  22. Walking Wolf says

    Is it all about you? They had masks to hide their true self, where is the atheistic message? The blue skin? Give me a break. You probably don’t have a god because your ego wouldn’t leave room for it. Their blue could mean the sadness we carry and want to share. Blue=sad. Get it?

    In case you were wondering. I was looking for some lyrics by Silverstein and ended up in this inane site.

  23. says

    And you don’t appear to be intelligent enough to have seen Kazim’s point. In a theistic society, filled with hostile and hateful people such as yourself, two atheists might meet without knowing of their shared disbelief. The magic of Silverstein is that his message can mean specific things to different people. You are clearly the one who wants it to be all about you.

  24. James Moore says

    There is nothing to suggest atheism is the meaning behind this. It seems to me that the author is superimposing their interpretation over the open ended meaning. This is a poem that we fill in with our own meaning. If the author wishes to see it that way, good on them, but it is necessary to acknowledge that it is thus, and not the author’s mentality

  25. Victoria Bonilla says

    i agree with you! i think the poem is about showing your true self no matter what, because if you don’t, you may not find another person just like you. It all comes down to being proud of your self and what you are. Everybody is different, but once in a while you find a match. Not just boyfriends/girlfriends but friends in general.

  26. Rebekkah C says

    It’s quite clearly about hiding your differences (differences in general, whatever they may be). There is nothing to suggest that this poem is about religion, atheism, or anything at all of that nature. It’s purely to do with the fact that we wear masks. How are we going to find those like us if we’re hiding what we are? That’s the main message. Interpretation can only go so far before it no longer makes sense or relates to the text.

  27. Ariel LaChelle says

    This reminded me of two people hiding evidence of self-harm. I actually had to rewrite this poem for an assignment in class today:

    He had fresh scars
    She also did
    Her sleeves were long
    And so were his
    Their crossed paths here
    And they thought each other weird
    But they became friends
    And their scars disappeared <3

  28. Ariel LaChelle says

    It can apply to any two people with similar secrets. Closeted atheists, Christians, people with eating disorders, closeted homosexuals or hermaphrodites, strippers/porn stars/prostitutes, drug addicts, superheroes hiding their identities, etc. I don’t think it matters. If you find any meaning in this it’s based off of your own experiences and views on life. You’ll probably think it’s about something you’re hiding, something that you know someone close to you is hiding, or something that you know is usually hidden from society.

    For example, I have quite a few friends that hurt themselves and this reminded me of two people hiding evidence of self-harm. I actually had to rewrite this poem for an assignment in class today and this is what I came up with:

    “He had fresh scars
    She also did
    Her sleeves were long
    And so were his
    Their crossed paths here
    And they thought each other weird
    But they became friends
    And their scars disappeared”

    Notice, their religions were not mentioned, because it does not matter. You should focus on similarities, not differences and maybe we’d be a less hostile and divided people. Then people wouldn’t feel the need to hide things that may be harmful to them (mental issues) or just set them apart from the next person (religious views).

  29. Ariel LaChelle says

    sorry for commenting twice. the website was giving me a super hard time so I didn’t know the first one went through. after reading the comments of others I felt the need to add a little extra to mine, hence the difference in the two.

  30. Russell Glasser says

    Sorry about that. First time commenters get held in moderation until somebody can look and verify that you’re not a spammer or a troll. Thanks for your feedback.

  31. :-) says

    Blue skin…. Blue is the color of sadness and depression. “are you feeling blue/are you sad or depressed”. I thinks its about depression. And that they both searched for blue is how you ache to find someone who is like yourself. Someone who actually understands your soul and that you can open your heart to.
    I think its a very brautiful poem. I find such beauty in sadness, the way this is. And i like how it can be a meaninhful poem to anyone in any situation in life! :-)

  32. Laura H. says

    I don’t think this poem necessarily means that they are closeted atheist. They could be closeted anything. It would make more sense to say that they are closeted Christians. I’ve never heard much about atheists being persecuted for their faith, but mainly Christians instead. I’ve never seen an atheist trying to hide their faith either, most are very open about it. But my general interpretation of this poem is that these two people are different from everyone else in some way (personality, faith, abilities, etc.) and are insecure about it so they are trying to find someone else like them but they are never able to because everyone else like them is hiding it.

  33. Lea says

    I thought it was about 2 depressed (blue meaning sad) people thinking there alone when really they pass by each other not knowing the other one was depressed or sad…

  34. Debanka says

    That’s exactly my interpretation. I see no reason or way,how this can relate to atheists. Its my fav short poem,that I came across in Quora. Its about love, how 2 persons who are so similar,hid themselves in such a guise that they can’t see other even if they walk by. Its genius poetry.

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