Where did you get such a dirty face,
My darling dirty-faced child?
I got it from crawling along in the dirt
And biting two buttons off Jeremy's shirt.
I got it from chewing the roots of a rose
And digging for clams in the yard with my nose.
I got it from peeking into a dark cave
And painting myself like a Navajo brave.
I got it from playing with coal in the bin
And signing my name in cement with my chin.
I got it from rolling around on the rug
And giving the horrible dog a big hug.
I got it from finding a lost silver mine
And eating sweet blackberries right off the vine.
I got it from ice cream and wrestling and tears
And from having more fun than you've had in years.
Here's my reading!
Shel Silverstein was a favorite of mine as a child, and according to my mother, I had many of his poems committed to memory before I could even read them. They're full of a joyful energy, wacky childhood images, wild imagination, and evoke the great sense of exploration and discovery which are the hallmarks of childhood.
This poem in particular, filled with its laundry list of face dirtying fun, captures that sense of madcap fun and adventure. What kid doesn't want to find a lost mine, to roll around in the dirt, explore a cave, get into some sort of horseplay with friends? It's the most natural fun in the world, filled with the sweet freedom of youth (sweetness highlighted by the image of blackberries fresh off the vine).
The question that begins the poem highlights the difference between adult and child. Whereas the adult sees a dirty face on the darling child, what it represents is all the fun that adults never seem to get up to anymore. That's precisely the child's retort at the end, and to me, it seems like Silverstein is telling his adult readers to not be afraid of childish fun. I'm sure this poem can make anyone nostalgic for childhood, and to parents, this may be a nice reminder that your kids will have the same face dirtying fun you once had.