When I read the nonsense poetry of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear, I was struck by their similarity to Shel Silverstein – particularly The Walrus and the Carpenter and The Giving Tree. Both these poems have slightly absurd, fantastical or unrealistic concepts, but they also hold an underlying meaning, one that a child reader will eventually pick up on as they grow older, enjoying the poems at first because of their simplistic and entertaining language.
Both of these poems have themes of sacrifice and encroachment. The giving tree’s flaw is in her name – she sacrifices too much to the boy because she loves him, and the oysters, dazzled by the conversation that their older would-be companions provide, are coerced into being their unwitting meal, sacrificing themselves. Both of the receivers of the sacrificers are either unaware or ungrateful of what they are receiving, to the downfall of the giver: “And so the boy cut down her trunk/and made a boat and sailed away./And the tree was happy/… but not really.” At the end of the poem, the tree laments that she has nothing left to give the boy: “‘I wish that I could give you something…./but I have nothing left./I am just an old stump./I am sorry….’” (Silverstein). The boy does not apologize to the tree for what he has taken, only sits upon her stump. In contrast, in Carroll’s poem, the Walrus “deeply sympathizes” with the oysters as he sorts them out by size, yet his empty apologies mean nothing as he does not even realize he has eaten them all until they do not respond. The Walrus and the Carpenter hold an air of entitlement throughout the poem, as they complain about the sand on the beach and expect it to be swept for them.