Study Guide

Song of the Open Road Speaker

By Walt Whitman

Speaker

We like to think of our speaker as the most enthusiastic travel agent we've ever met. We might have gone into his office just to get a brochure, but we're coming out with a fully booked lifetime vacation and a plan to sell everything we can't carry with us along the way.

What makes him so convincing, though? And—before we go too much further—we'll just note that we're going to call him a "him" for the sake of convenience, since we don't get any other biographical info on him in this poem. He is someone whose enthusiasm is so infectious that it just can't be contained. Just check out just a small portion of his description of whom you might expect to meet in your travels on the open road:

Journeyers over consecutive seasons, over the years—the curious years, each emerging from that which preceded it,
Journeyers as with companions, namely, their own diverse phases,
Forth-steppers from the latent unrealized baby-days,
Journeyers gayly with their own youth—Journeyers with their bearded and well-grain'd manhood,
Journeyers with their womanhood, ample, unsurpass'd, content,
Journeyers with their own sublime old age of manhood or womanhood,
(161-166)

The use of anaphora here really lends these lines energy and spark (check out "Sound Check" for more). By the time we finish reading, we can't help but be awestruck by the overwhelming description of our potential fellow travelers.

But he's not just a representative of this great travel plan, he's also a client:

Afoot and light-hearted, I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose.
(1-3)

In other words, this guy is speaking from experience. He's selling us on the joys of the open road because he's got firsthand knowledge of the benefits of this kind of travel. For that reason, his descriptions and declarations are all the more compelling.

Finally, he's a straight shooter. It's not all fun and games out on the open road:

Listen! I will be honest with you;
I do not offer the old smooth prizes, but offer rough new prizes;
(141-142)

Given the choice, we're going to go with the old smooth prizes, please. But the speaker wants us to know that he's selling something more valuable than comfort: he's selling wisdom, experience, and a fully-lived life. What more could you ask for?

It's hard to say no to the guy, we have to admit. He shares the same kind of over-the-top excitement that characterizes other Whitman poems. (Just try counting up all the exclamation marks in this poem if you have an hour to kill.) We say more about that over in "Calling Card," but for now, we'll just note that, like any good salesman, our speaker won't take it personally if you're not up for the trip:

I will recruit for myself and you as I go;
I will scatter myself among men and women as I go;
[…]
Whoever denies me, it shall not trouble me;
Whoever accepts me, he or she shall be blessed, and shall bless me.
(65-69)

What a guy—now where do we sign?

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