Where the Sidewalk Ends
by Shel Silverstein
Analysis: Form and Meter
Shel Silverstein Special
Rhyme! Rhythm! Rhetorical flare! Yep, there's no shortage of all that in "Where the Sidewalk Ends," but Shel Silverstein doesn't follow any set rules: there's no special name for the form and meter of this poem.
Rhyme (with Some Reason)
Let's start with the rhyme scheme. In the first two stanzas, the first line stands alone, not rhyming with anything. Then the second line roughly rhymes with the last line:
And before the street begins,(2)
To cool in the peppermint wind (6).
The third, fourth, and fifth lines rhyme with each other.
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight (3-5)
Got all that? It's a little random, but there seems to be some method to the madness: it makes it so there are lots of repetitions in the sounds, but it's not too overwhelming or boring. (The second stanza follows this pattern, too.)
Then, the last stanza does something pretty cool: it combines some of the major sounds from the stanzas before it. Let's take a closer look: the last line repeats the very first line, almost exactly:
There is a place where the sidewalk ends (1)
The place where the sidewalk ends (16)
It's kind of like a refrain, or a phrase that occurs over and over again. Also, the rhyme in this stanza isn't only limited to itself: it actually rhymes with some of the lines from the previous stanza! Check it out:
Yes we'll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we'll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know (13-15)
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go (8-10)
So throughout the poem, we hear repeats of old sounds, but welcome some new ones, too.
Rhythm (and Some Blues)
The rhythm of the poem isn't very clear-cut. Unlike many technical, formal poems, the stressed and unstressed syllables vary so much in this poem depending on how you read it aloud that it's hard to pin down exactly what kind of meter, or rhythm, the poem is in.
There are a few things we can point to, though. All of the lines have between three and five beats, or stressed syllables. The rhythm in the lines is fun to read aloud, without being so set in stone that it's sing-songy. The rhythm especially catches our attention in the first stanza, where the repetition of "and there" at the beginning of the lines creates a few lines of iambic tetrameter.
You might be thinking, "Iamba tetra whaa…?". But don't worry, Shmoop has your back. An iamb is a set of two syllables in which the first syllable is unstressed, and the second is stressed (da-DUM). And tetra just means there are four of them. And We'll show you an example from the poem. The stressed syllables are in bold and italic:
and there the grass grows oft and white."
See? The line has four stressed syllables, each of which follows an unstressed one. Simple, fun to read aloud, and easy to spot, this line sets up what seems to be the driving iambic rhythm behind the poem. But of course, there is a good bit of variation to keep things fresh.
There are a couple of other places where the poem sticks to a strict meter. More specifically, lines 10, 13, and 15 are in (here comes another scary term!) anapestic tetrameter. Okay, we've already got the tetrameter thing down, right? It just means the line has four metrical feet (i.e. whatever it is happens four times). But what does it mean when that tetrameter is anapestic? Well, an anapest is similar to an iamb, only instead of one unstressed syllable, the anapest has two unstressed syllables before the beat, like the word comprehend. Let's take a look at line 10 to see what we mean:
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow.
One thing anapestic meter is known for is the galloping rhythm it creates. It's often used in poems to create a sense of speed, so it's a bit funny that it's being used here in a line about walking slowly, with a measured pace. Perhaps our poet meant to set up a contrast, or perhaps he meant for the anapestic meter to create a kind of plodding feeling, rather than a galloping one.
Of course, in a poem that is all about using the imagination, the speaker wouldn't stick to some predefined form. So much of the poem is a big old messy mixture of anapests and iambs. It makes it a little more difficult for us as readers to figure out how things work, but in the end, we still have good fun with the play of rhyme and rhythm in this poem. It keeps us on our toes.