“The Song of the Open Road”


         There is something about poetry that distinguishes it from other forms of expression.  Prose is used to tell a story, establish an argument, inform an audience, or teach a lesson.  Poetry can only satisfactorily fulfill a few of these purposes, yet it can do so much more.  Poetry has the ability to grab the soul of every reader, inspire them, and touch their hearts.  It expresses emotion in the rawest form and paints vivid pictures with less than one thousand words.  “The Song of the Open Road” by Walt Whitman is an excellent example of a freely written poem that gives the reader powerful, naked thoughts and emotions.  Written in the perspective of a young man who throws off the burden of society and seeks a new life on the open road, it is unique in its structural freedom and use of personification.  The carefree attitude and flexible structure of “The Song of the Open Road” serve to show that the greatest joy in life is to live independently and freely.

         Whitman does not follow a rigid structure, allowing the demands of the poem to go where they will.  The poem flows very well from beginning to end because the author is not constrained by rhyme scheme or line lengths.  He is able to write freely, letting his ideas and thoughts dictate the style of the poem.  Whitman uses a great deal of parallel structure for various reasons.  The most obvious reason is for emphasis, as in the passage, “However sweet these laid up stores, however convenient this dwelling we cannot remain here, / However shelter’d this port and however calm these waters we must not anchor here, / However welcome the hospitality that surrounds us we are permitted to receive it but a little while” (9.8-10).  These three lines use the exact same structure but different images to depict the same end result.  He repeats himself to emphasize the gravity of what he must do.  He makes use of all different forms of punctuation, particularly exclamation points and question marks.  Exclamation points, sometimes found even in the middle of the sentence, are used by Whitman to emphasize a particular phrase or idea.  Whitman is able to fully express himself, using punctuation, fragments, and whatever suits his purpose.  The flexibility of his writing further highlights the freedom that all people should experience.

         Personification throughout the poem implies that even inanimate objects are free in order to enhance his idea that humans must live freely.  The narrator speaks to objects as he travels on the road, “You air that serves me with breath to speak! / You light that wraps me and all things in delicate equable showers!” (3.1-2).  The manner in which the narrator speaks to these objects implies that these objects have a choice in what they do.  The air “serves” him with breath; the word serves carries the connotation of a choice involved.  Likewise with the next line, the light is portrayed to be bestowing a privilege or making in effort in showering its gifts equally.  As the narrator continues his travels, the “cheerful voice of the public road” speaks to him, tells him, “I am already prepared, I am well beaten and undenied, adhere to me” (4.4,7).  The road speaks, has intelligence and feelings just like a human being would.  The road vies for the narrator’s attention and advises him to stay on the beaten path.  The road is like a temptation to the narrator, to stay with the familiar and not venture into the unknown.  Personification is the main contributor to the theme of freedom of thoughts and actions because he makes the most unlikely things follow it.  Even inanimate objects have choices to make and are perceived as human.

         The tone of this poem changes with the speaker’s attitude but always has a carefree air about it.  Throughout the piece, the narrator is very lighthearted and optimistic.  However, the mood still has its ups and downs.  The poem begins in a very hopeful and idealistic tone.  The narrator is setting off on his journey without a care in the world.  He is ready to face anything and sees everything in a positive light.  He soon lapses into a contemplative mood, asking questions about the nature of relationships and the goodness of people.  He begins to philosophize about wisdom and the soul.  Throughout this section, one can tell that his thoughts are brought on by his newfound freedom.  He is pondering these things because he now realizes what life is meant to be.  The narrator does not stay in this mood for long because he is ready to take action.  Whitman uses the word “Allons,” French for “let’s go” as the beginning of each stanza until the end of the poem.  The narrator is idealistic and speaks convincingly to bring others to find their own life of independence.  He has high expectations of his companions and what they should be capable of.  The poem ends with an air of finality, a decision made.  The narrator is finished with his convincing, philosophizing, and is off.  He vows to forget about society, about what is left behind and takes to the open road.

         “The Song of the Open Road” is an inspirational poem, teaching the reader to be true to oneself and live a life of freedom.  The theme is a powerful one.  Often we are told to live life to the fullest and that what other people think of us does not matter.  But how often have we been afraid to do something because our peers would laugh at us or think we were stupid?  It is inevitable that we are affected by the opinions of the people around us.  The narrator’s courage and joyful acceptance of his life is a symbol of what any person’s life could be like.  The narrator does not live a life of perfection, a life utterly without obligations or troubles.  On the contrary, he has many obligations to himself; he must stay true to his ideals, his soul, and his intelligence.  However, he does live a life where he chooses his own fate.  Everyone longs for a little bit of that lifestyle.  Perhaps, not all people want to go traipsing about the countryside, but everyone has dreams.  Dreams that they could fulfill with the right amount of motivation and determination.  This idealistic poem gives us hope and a reminder that freedom in one’s life is possible.