Study Guide

Song of the Open Road Summary

By Walt Whitman

Advertisement - Guide continues below

Song of the Open Road Summary

"Song of the Open Road" starts off appropriately enough. The speaker is starting a trip. Any guesses as to where? If you answered "the open road," then collect ten thousand bonus points. The speaker is super-jazzed to be hitting the trail, since he's got everything he needs (mainly himself and… the earth). He's even happy to be bringing men and women along with him, since they fill him up. Like the nice fellow he is, he gladly repays the favor.

In fact, our speaker loves everyone and everything on this road—even the things he can't see. That's some serious love. He also loves the various parts of the cities he passes—curbstones, porches, etc.—since they bear the marks of the people who have come into contact with them. Our speaker's not afraid to leave the road if he has to, but he doesn't want to do that. He thinks he's going to like everyone he sees on the road, and that everyone he sees will like him. He's one optimistic dude.

He's also a guy who won't be constrained by borders or limits. He's free, out there in the wide world. He's going to go among the women and men, and it won't bother him one bit if he gets rejected. He'll bless anyone who blesses him—what a guy.

Maybe that's because he realizes what it takes to make a perfect person: exposure to the open air and the earth. Out on the open road, folks have room to accomplish great deeds and cultivate wisdom. Out here, a "man" realizes what he's made out of, because it's the inner core that counts, not the superficial window dressing (88).

After this declaration, our speaker is plagued by a bunch of questions, inspired by an outpouring of his soul: What's up with his desires and his thoughts in the dark? Why does he dig on other men and women so much? Why is he so inspired by certain trees, and why is he so quick to interact with strangers? Why are they so quick to interact with him? Inquiring minds want to know…

Meanwhile, back on the open road, you can find happiness and a longing for human contact. The speaker wants you (and everyone) to join him out on the open road. No matter how comfy you are right now, the road is a better place to be, and it's calling. So enjoy a little hospitality, then lace up those walking shoes.

You'll be free out there on the open road, the speaker says, free from routine. All the same, it won't be any pleasure cruise. Our speaker only wants the fittest to make this trip with him. Don't believe him? Well, he does his convincing by his "presence" (140).

The thing is, the open road isn't about riches or ease; it's about movement, baby. As soon as you settle down, you'll want to pick up stakes and kiss those loved ones good-bye again. The companions are out there on the road, waiting. These folks come in all shapes and sizes, but they've all overcome obstacles to be out there on their respective journeys.

It's like this on the road, our speaker tells us: you can reach everything you see, and you approach everyone you see. You can even possess everything you see—without even working or paying for it. You take the best parts with you of the people and places you visit. The universe itself, in fact, is a road, on which all souls travel. How's that for some perspective?

If you didn't catch that, the speaker wants you to know that the soul itself is a traveler. It travels farther than the body, parting ways with the physical self to travel through the universe toward a destination that's unknown, but which has to be great.

Next, the speaker starts calling folks out. Stop hiding there in the dark, he says. There's a secret, hidden version of everyone out there, just sneaking around and putting up false appearances but never acknowledging itself—eerie.

Our speaker leaves this idea to let us know that every success has given way to a bigger challenge. Anyone traveling with him had better be prepared for that challenge. Don't freak out, though. The road is safe—our speaker speaks from experience, gang.

So drop everything—literally. The speaker is lending you his hand. Will you take it? Will you stick with him for the rest of your life?

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...