Introduction

What If by Shel Silverstein is a 24 lines poem in which a child tells about his dreams and fascinations during the night. He wonders what will happen to him when something bad happens. When the day time comes, everything becomes normal. However during the night, he is again haunted by the same dreams.

Poem

Video

Stanza 1

Last night, while I lay thinking here,
Some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
And pranced and partied all night long
Whatif I'm dumb in school?
Whatif they've closed the swimming pool?
Whatif I get beat up?

The child says that the night before while he was laying on his bed and thinking, some what ifs came to his mind. In other words, he started thinking about some bad things which may occur. These what ifs pranced and partied (kept coming and going) in his mind the whole night.

He thinks what would happen if he becomes dumb (speechless) in the school, what would happen if the swimming pool is closed and what would happen if he is beaten up. Note that all these things have a negative impact on the child. They make him restless and unable to sleep properly.

Stanza 2

Whatif dad is in jail 
For not paying his taxes
Whatif I start to call 911
Whatif I call Frankie for pizza pie
What is my plane was late
Whatif nobody likes me?
Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?

The child wonders what would happen if his dad is jailed for not paying the taxes. What would happen if some emergency occurs and he has to call 911 (emergency no. in USA). What would happen if he calls his friend Frankie to eat pizza pie. What would happen if his plane is late and he is unable to travel. What would happen if nobody likes him. What would happen if he is struct by lighting.

Stanza 3

Whatif I don't grow taller?
Whatif my head starts getting smaller?
Whatif the fish won't bite?
Whatif the wind tears up my kite?
Whatif they start a war?
Whatif my parents get divorced?

He again wonders what would happen if he does not grow tall and remains stunted, what would happen if his head becomes smaller, what would happen if fish does not bite him (shark or any other deadly fish), what would happen if his kite is torn by strong wind, what would happen if a war breaks out in his country and what would happen if his parents are divorced.

Stanza 4

Whatif the bus is late?
Whatif my teeth don't grow in straight?
Whatif I tear my pants?
Whatif I never learn to dance?
Everything seems well, and then
The nighttime Whatifs strike again!

Further, the child wonders what would happen if his bus (probably school bus) is late, what would happen if his teeth do not grow strait, what would happen if he tears his pant and what would happen if he does not learn to dance.

According to him, everything seems well during the day time. However when the night time comes, all these what ifs come to his mind again and he becomes restless.

Further Reading

  1. Play quiz on the poem What If
  2. Questions and answers of What If