Introduction: Paul Bunyan was a big ol' man with an ax in his hand and a beard on his chin. He
is a favorite character in American folktale and Shel Silverstein provides us with a lyrical version of this fanciful
character that will tickle your imagination. My fifth graders used to love this poem and always wanted me
to read it! A word of caution, it does contain the word "hell," so you need to read the poem in advance to
make sure it's suitable for your audience.
He rode through the woods on a big blue ox,
He had fists as hard as choppin' blocks,
Five hundred pounds and nine feet tall...that's Paul.
Talk about workin', when he swung his axe
You could hear it ring for a mile and a half.
Then he'd yell"Timber!" and down she'd fall...for Paul.
Talk about drinkin', that man's so mean
That he'd never drink nothin' but kerosene,
And a five-gallon can is a little bit small...for Paul.
Talk about tough, well he once had a fight
With a thunderstorm on a cold dark night.
I ain't sayin' who won,
But it don't storm at all...round here...thanks to Paul.
He was ninety years old when he said with a sigh,
"I think I'm gonna lay right down and die
'Cause sunshine and sorrow, I've seen it all...says Paul.
He says, "There ain't no man alive can kill me,
Ain't no woman 'round can thrill me,
And I think heaven just mught be a ball"...says Paul.
So he died...can we cried.
It took eighteen men just to bust the ground,
It took twenty-four more just to lower him down.
And we covered him up and we figured that was all...for Paul.
But late one night the trees started shakin',
The dogs started howlin' and the earth started quakin',
And out of the ground with a "Hi, y'all"...comes Paul!
He shook the dirt from off his clothes,
He scratched his butt and wiped his nose.
"Y'kknow, bein' dead wasn't no fun at all"...says Paul.
He says, "Up in heaven they got harps on their knees,
They got clouds and wings but they got no trees.
I don't think that's much of a heaven at all"...says Paul.
So he jumps on his ox with a fare-thee-well,
He says, "I'll find out if there's trees in hell."
And he rode away, and that was all...we ever seen...of Paul.
But the next time you hear a "Timber!" yell
That sounds like it's comin' from the pits of hell,
Then a weird and devilish ghostly wail
Like somebody's choppin' on the devil's tail,
Then a shout, a call, a crash, a fall--
That ain't no mortal man at all...that's Paul!
Taken from: Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
Harper and Row (1974)
Extension: This poem lends itself to audience participation. They can participate by joining with the
reader by stating Paul's name at the end of each stanza.
"Paul Bunyan" is also great for character description. Discuss with the students Paul's physical characteristics
as well as his personality traits. The students could select their favorite character and brainstorm words, phrases,
and ideas that describe their favorite character. After brainstorming their thoughts and ideas
maybe they could try writing a poem about the character they chose.