Study Guide

Song of the Open Road Freedom and Confinement

By Walt Whitman

Freedom and Confinement

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)

Right from the get-go, our speaker wants us to know that he's out there, baby, living the dream of freedom. He's not just preaching something about which he has no experience. He's tasting freedom, then coming to us with the news of just how sweet it is.

From this hour, freedom!
From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines,
Going where I list, my own master, total and absolute, (53-55)

We have to admit, it sounds like a pretty great way to live—no rules, no master, no boundaries. The speaker is a pretty convincing spokesperson for travel as the best way to experience freedom.

We will sail pathless and wild seas;
We will go where winds blow, waves dash, and the Yankee clipper speeds by under full sail. (126-127)

At some point, the idea of freedom is so central to this poem's thinking that even the metaphor of the open road fails to capture it. The speaker moves on to sailing here to communicate a sense of freedom. At least on the ocean you don't have to worry about paths or pavement. You really can go anywhere you choose.

To see nothing anywhere but what you may reach it and pass it,
To conceive no time, however distant, but what you may reach it and pass it,
To look up or down no road but it stretches and waits for you—however long, but it stretches and waits for you; (173-175)

Everything seems possible out here on the open road. You can go anywhere, no matter the distance or time it takes to get there. The road is there, waiting to make all your dreams of escape come true. What are you waiting for?

Allons! be not detain'd!
Let the paper remain on the desk unwritten, and the book on the shelf unopen'd!
Let the tools remain in the workshop! let the money remain unearn'd!
Let the school stand! mind not the cry of the teacher!
Let the preacher preach in his pulpit! let the lawyer plead in the court, and the judge expound the law. (222-226)

Paperwork? Reading? Work? School? The message here is: who needs 'em? The open road is calling, Shmoopers, so drop your responsibilities where they are and head on out to experience that highway of life. Ultimate freedom awaits.

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