Study Guide

Song of the Open Road Travel

By Walt Whitman


What's so great about a road, anyway? They're usually filled with traffic, potholes, or both. According to our poem's speaker, though, those are both marks in the plus column. This guy loves running into fellow travelers, claiming that "None but are accepted—none but are dear to me" (23). And not even roadwork seems to get him down: "You paths worn in the irregular hollows by the roadsides!/ I think you are latent with unseen existences—you are so dear to me" (27-28).

Clearly, our guy loves the open road, but is it the road itself or is it maybe the freedom and experience that the road provides? The sights and scenes that the road provides for our speaker are what really seem to stir his juices. His feet are so itchy that he can barely stand to be in one place overnight: "You but arrive at the city to which you were destin'd—you hardly settle yourself to satisfaction, before you are call'd by an irresistible call to depart" (146). The road really is a means to an end for our speaker. It allows him to travel, to experience life every day, which is why this poem is sporting a whole suitcase full of travel-related imagery.

So why is travel so important to this guy? Well, you've probably seen that motivational poster somewhere, or maybe it was on a cheesy greeting card, that said "Life is a journey, not a destination." Whitman, simply put, is all in on this idea. The only difference is that he's using an awesome poem to get this idea across. As his speaker notes in line 184, "The Soul travels." To get out on the open road, then, is to live life to its fullest—and that's just what this speaker wants you to do.

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