Shel Silverstein

(September 25, 1930 – May 10, 1999 / Chicago/ Illinois)

A Boy Named Sue - Poem by Shel Silverstein

Well, my daddy left home when I was three,
and he didn't leave much to Ma and me,
just this old guitar and a bottle of booze.
Now I don't blame him because he run and hid,
but the meanest thing that he ever did was
before he left he went and named me Sue.

Well, he must have thought it was quite a joke,
and it got lots of laughs from a lot of folks,
it seems I had to fight my whole life through.
Some gal would giggle and I'd get red
and some guy would laugh and I'd bust his head,
I tell you, life ain't easy for a boy named Sue.

Well, I grew up quick and I grew up mean.
My fist got hard and my wits got keen.
Roamed from town to town to hide my shame,
but I made me a vow to the moon and the stars,
I'd search the honky tonks and bars and kill
that man that gave me that awful name.

But it was Gatlinburg in mid July and I had
just hit town and my throat was dry.
I'd thought i'd stop and have myself a brew.
At an old saloon in a street of mud
and at a table dealing stud sat the dirty,
mangy dog that named me Sue.

Well, I knew that snake was my own sweet dad
from a worn-out picture that my mother had
and I knew the scar on his cheek and his evil eye.
He was big and bent and gray and old
and I looked at him and my blood ran cold,
and I said, 'My name is Sue. How do you do?
Now you're gonna die.' Yeah, that's what I told him.

Well, I hit him right between the eyes and he went down
but to my surprise he came up with a knife
and cut off a piece of my ear. But I busted a chair
right across his teeth. And we crashed through
the wall and into the street kicking and a-gouging
in the mud and the blood and the beer.

I tell you I've fought tougher men but I really can't remember when.
He kicked like a mule and bit like a crocodile.
I heard him laughin' and then I heard him cussin',
he went for his gun and I pulled mine first.
He stood there looking at me and I saw him smile.

And he said, 'Son, this world is rough and if
a man's gonna make it, he's gotta be tough
and I knew I wouldn't be there to help you along.
So I gave you that name and I said 'Goodbye'.
I knew you'd have to get tough or die. And it's
that name that helped to make you strong.'

Yeah, he said, 'Now you have just fought one
helluva fight, and I know you hate me and you've
got the right to kill me now and I wouldn't blame you
if you do. But you ought to thank me
before I die for the gravel in your guts and the spit
in your eye because I'm the guy that named you Sue.'
Yeah, what could I do? What could I do?

I got all choked up and I threw down my gun,
called him pa and he called me a son,
and I came away with a different point of view
and I think about him now and then.
Every time I tried, every time I win and if I
ever have a son I think I am gonna name him
Bill or George - anything but Sue.

Comments about A Boy Named Sue by Shel Silverstein

  • Darlan M Cunha (1/14/2016 2:09:00 PM)

    I remember. Amazing poet. Their efforts convinced me that this poem is not dubious, nebulous, blasphemous. I remember certain songs: A horse with no name // Father and son // Satanic majesties... (Report) Reply

    11 person liked.
    6 person did not like.
  • Frank James Ryan Jr...fjr (8/16/2015 10:12:00 PM)

    Too many people believed that Cash wrote this Epic lyrical poem....Cash was certainly the right voice choice to give full justice to this SIL-ver piece lined in Solid Gold...but no-one, not Cash, Graham Nash, the Rat Pack nor Bacharach could spin words with Silverstein! ~FjR~ (Report) Reply

  • Kim Barney (8/16/2015 12:35:00 PM)

    I've always loved to hear Johnny Cash sing his version of this.
    Silverstein also has 'Father of a Boy named Sue', and it's funny, but gets a little bit raunchy.
    (Report) Reply

  • Rajnish Manga (8/16/2015 6:55:00 AM)

    Congratulations for a lovely episode and a narrative that goes on to make it as interesting as it could be. The element of suspense remains intact till the end. May Sue and his Pa live long. Thanks for the poem.
    Well, I grew up quick and I grew up mean.
    My fist got hard and my wits got keen.
    (Report) Reply

  • Edward Kofi Louis (8/16/2015 6:37:00 AM)

    Choked up! ! With the muse of life; growing up without a father around. Nice piece. (Report) Reply

  • Ramesh T A (8/16/2015 1:13:00 AM)

    Fight between father and son for having given the name Sue to his son ends wonderfully well by the father's speech that goes that this world is very bad and insults his son get had made him have strong gut to kill even his own father in a fight. Realizing this son and father embrace and depart with good will! Nice one! (Report) Reply

  • val Rogers (4/19/2015 9:16:00 PM)

    This poem is an encouragement to all underdogs. Good story. (Report) Reply

  • (4/4/2014 4:30:00 AM)

    I like the humor of the poem. 'I am the man who called you Sue' is my favorite line! Mr. Cash uses slightly stronger words o his version Both make me laugh! ! ! Have A Nice Day (Report) Reply

  • (5/11/2013 10:46:00 PM)

    well sue m&m singer have a unique song too for barring mother from so so so so long, as if he was acting a part of play as you do... life goes on huh! ! (Report) Reply

  • Calico Jack (4/19/2012 7:41:00 PM)

    Love the poem, love the Cash song. Lighthearted, which is a nice change from all the morbid poetry around, methinks. (Report) Reply

  • (1/30/2012 8:10:00 PM)

    johnny cash sings this also, with a few word different (Report) Reply

Read all 11 comments »

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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, April 6, 2010

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