It wasn't always this way, you know. "Song of the Open Road" was not, in fact, Whitman's first choice when it came to slapping a title on this poem. Nope, that honor went to—wait for it—"Poem of the Open Road." Pretty snazzy, eh?
Yeah, we're with you. Any poem that calls itself a poem in the title is pretty much stating the obvious. Oh, it's a poem of the open road? Sorry, Walt, we thought it was a toaster of the open road. Luckily Whitman soon came to his senses and changed the word "poem" to "song."
While it's just one word, there's actually a lot that went into this editorial decision. To appreciate that new word, think about it like this: what is a song's job? Sure, some of them want to get you to shake your money maker, while others try to make you cry in the rain. But all songs, no matter what style of music or what kind of content, are celebrations in their way. They all call attention to some aspect of life in order to get audiences to stop what they're doing and focus in.
And that kind of attention is exactly what Whitman is going for in this poem. He's celebrating the open road—its freedoms, its challenges, its views, and its voyagers. It may be hard to dance to, what with the poem's total lack of rhyme and rhythm (check out "Form and Meter" for the scoop). All the same, though, this poem is a celebration, much like any song.
If you listen hard enough, you can practically hear Whitman whistling to us through these lines. Like any good songsmith, he's doing everything he can to get us to realize just how amazing his subject, the open road, can be. So go ahead and feel free to tap your feet and nod your head as you read along.