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 nut 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.

Analysis, meaning and summary of the poem by

40 Comments

  1. blakemoreb says:

    fossil societies related institute

  2. Samantha says:

    I love johnny cash and shel silverstein. They are both genuises.

  3. teddy says:

    I love This song it is awesome!!!I love johnny cash, i had sex with him onr time and it was amazing!!!! To bad he isn’t here now.

  4. Sabrina says:

    This is a great poem/song. It’s one of my favorites by Johnny Cash. You also have many other awesome poems!

  5. James says:

    Dude this poem is awesome i can’t belive you wrote it it’s my favorite song by johnny cash!!!!

  6. Taylor says:

    I love this poem. I chose it to memorize to recite to the class.

  7. Jordan says:

    I LOVE this song!!!!!! I love Jhonny Cash and his music. I always listen to it. I am so glad that this was posted. I always go on this to check it out and I love to see this Jhonny Cash song!!!!!!!!!

  8. shandos says:

    This is a great poem/song.Did you know that there is a second part. it’s written from dad’s point of view. v. funny. my fav shel poem though is called “the world’s greatest smoke off” if you are a choofa, check it out. some great references to the ‘herb’. Let me know how ya go.

  9. John says:

    I memorized this poem for poetry day and i did great, it is a great poem- woo!! lol!! hehe

  10. Red- haired Kid says:

    I thought the poem was good. I’ve never heard the song though.

  11. Spongy Bull says:

    The poem is great! Why is the slang, and to some offensive words needed?

    If the reader, or listener to the song can’t get the drift, and interpit to his/her own notions, then they have missed the whole picture.

    The cursing, slang, etc. is just a “fill” for lack of vocabulary. If you don’t get that….take some language classes.

    Oh, BTW…I’m not offended personally, and ain’t going to preach…this is just my opinion. (Yes…”ain’t” is not good English…right? 😉

  12. Alec says:

    A poem anyone (or nearly) who reads or listens to the song by Johnny Cash can relate to. Very heartfelt and down to the nitty gritty.

    It’s one of those rare poems that has real soul..and Johnny did it great justice.

    Thanks, Shel and Johnny. Great team.

  13. Chloe says:

    I loved it

  14. Lucas says:

    Im a very big fan of Jony Cash so I really enhoyed it.

  15. Jesse says:

    I really like this poem however, I can’t believe you changed the wrods from ” mother fucker” to “nut”. You are changing a classic.
    I didnt know Shel Silverstein had died!! I’m writng a schoo paper on him and i found this so far the most informative. I may be only 14 but i can appretiate the talents of those who posses it, Shel Siverstein did. I hope more people can enjoy his work. This site is helping to pass on his stories and let the children who didnt grow up in his time still grow up with his stories, thank you.

  16. Katelyn M says:

    I really thought this poem was cute! Espesially cuz it was made into a song. Although “A Boy Named Sue” is a strange name for a poem. I love Johnny Cash though.

  17. Melissa says:

    I also like Johnny Cash. My Grandmother has his records and I heard the song and later I looked up the poem. Shel Silverstein is an awsome song writter and now I listen to his songs all the time

  18. Marissa says:

    I love his poems and everything….BUT….i never knew that he died…lol well jus thought that i’d leave a comment….byee oh yes i love johnny cash also!!!!!!!

  19. Amber says:

    i grew up to johnny cah and im still quite young but no matter what his song wll never get old.I am 13 years ld and I’m proud to admit that i love all music includinggood old Johnny C. R.I.P.Johnny Cash and may your music live on with peaceful notes.

  20. Ethan Smith says:

    This poem us awsoem i never knew that shel wrote it. Im a big fan of johnny and not really reading poems but now im gonna read more of shels cause he wrote this great one

  21. Kristi says:

    I found the other poem that Shel Silverstein wrote in relation to this one. It’s hilarious. No, this one wouldn’t be in a children’s book either.
    http://www.banned-width.com/shel/works/boysuepa.htmlAlthough I found on another website that the original word was “nut” instead of “motherf***er”.
    http://www.straightdope.com/mailbag/msue.html

  22. Billie Sue Johnson says:

    Yes, thats my name. People wonder if I am a girl or a boy if they don’t know me. I really like my name. Yes, it does make you tough.

  23. Taylor Smith says:

    Now when you look at my name what comes to mind? Guy or girl? It depends on who poeple know and their point of veiw. I personally don’t know any guy Taylor’s, although I know there are some. I was given a unisex name and not once have I ever thought about. A name is a name, it dosn’t define who you are. If my name was Bob, I would certainly try to hurt the one who gave it to me. Shel puts a certain amount of information in a very understandable and mabea even child like poem. Now, let me ask you, after you have read this. Can you guess my age as well as my gender? I am 12 years old, suprised?

  24. Gina says:

    A few days ago I brought a copy of “Where The Sidewalk Ends” from a local charity thrift shop (couldn’t pass up the $1 price). My daughters (17 & 8) and I dissolve with laughter everytime we read from it. My dad has that Johnny Cash LP and I actually remember listening to “A Boy Named Sue”as a child and thinking, “that’s different”. Now knowing that he wrote the song/poems I can see the similar “style”. Very nice!(67oF/19oC)

  25. Amanda says:

    My mother grew up a huge fan of Johnny Cash to the point where her family nicknamed her Johnny. I just happen to be bored and thought I would read a few poems from Shel Silverstein because his poems are always so interesting in a weird sort of way. I was amazed to find out that Shel Silverstein wrote this poem I think that my mother would love to here where the story came from. I am so glad I found this site!

  26. Linda says:

    I’m reading Larson’s book, saw the reference to the real boy named Sue who was one of the attorneys on the Scopes monkey trial. Does anyone know if Silverstein new the story about the Scopes lawyer, Sue K. Hicks? The song refers to Gatlinburg, TN and the trial was in Tennessee?

  27. Fred says:

    There really was a boy named Sue according to author Edward J. Larson in his book, “Summer for the Gods – The Scopes Trial”, page 89. He was one of the lawyers that prosecuted John Scopes. He was named Sue by his father in memory of the boy’s mother who died during his birth.

  28. Bill Jennings says:

    As a retired English teacher I give occasional lectures to community groups on language and related topics, one being names and their origins, and how one’s name relates to self-image. I sometimes start this lecture with a mention of “A Boy Named Sue”. Its humour lies in its absurdity – why would the boy retain the name when he grew up, as if it was like a birthmark, scar or other unchangeable thing? But the cleverness of the poem is of course it isn’t as absurd as all that. Names are very much a part of our identity, given to us by those responsible for our existence, and we don’t lightly abandon or change our name. Parents often do give children awful, pretentious or obscure names, and mostly the kids put up with them all their life. So “A Boy Named Sue” is partly a satire on this. But surnames can be pretty bad too – Belcher, Swindell, Coward, Ramsbottom, Death (all of these originally had innocuous meanings, of course) – yet you’ll find plenty of people in phone books with such names. Again, our name, whatever it is, is part of identity, and surnames in particular link us to ancestors and present families and relatives. Silverstein of course knows these traditions and sends them up in a marvellously humorous but basically fairly gentle fashion.

  29. gailgw says:

    I am a high school teacher and I was looking for an entertaining poem to discuss with my students – I found one! I will also play the song for my kids to hear and to enjoy.

  30. Frank says:

    Many times, I’ve listened to Johnny Cash do “A Boy Named Sue”, had a laugh and drove on. Not until today did I know that Shel had written the words.

    Frank

  31. Boom Wee says:

    i was realy suprised to see shel say mother fucker

  32. Nikki says:

    this poem iz sooo freakn awesome!! its really funny! i luv shel silverstien!!yayay!

  33. - -*Jade says:

    I really like this poem and song as well! I like it a lot! =)

  34. hana says:

    cute poem.., i think i kno why it wasnt in a kids book… i think…haha…

  35. mike says:

    its one of my personal favorite songs and i cant believe it was written by shell either..wow..

  36. BOO mE says:

    good poem and song..intresting makes you think

  37. becky says:

    Theres always another way to look at things…

  38. The Rooster Girl of Texas says:

    WOW!!! I love Johnny Cash! And Shel Silverstein! I grew up hearing those songs and poems! I can’t belive Shel wrote one of Johnny’s funniest (and very meaningful) songs! That’s really cool!

  39. Hellur says:

    There’s more to it than meets the eye. At first glance it probably seems funny but what it’s really all about is the relationship between parent and child. The parent sometimes (or maybe most of the times) does things that the child can’t understand, which to him would seem like the wrong thing to do. But in reality, the parent did what he did because it’s what he thought would be best for the child. After all, parents only want what’s good for their children.

  40. big whoop says:

    I wonder why this poem wasn’t in a children’s book… I wonder…

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