Study Guide

Song of the Open Road Life, Consciousness, and Existence

By Walt Whitman

Life, Consciousness, and Existence

We've said before that there's no surer sign that you're in Cliché-Ville than a sign reading "Life is a journey, not a destination." We've all heard it before, usually in a lame commencement address or from a distant relative who's trying to give us some "advice." At the same time, what if that tired old saying really did mean something? What if we're not just traveling through life, but voyaging through the cosmos? What if this life is just a pit stop on some greater road trip?

The speaker of "Song of the Open Road" has totally bought into that idea. For him, travel is more than a way to get free and meet people. It's the best way to prepare yourself for that ultimate voyage to… well, somewhere.

Questions About Life, Consciousness, and Existence

  1. What, according to the speaker, exactly is "the progress of souls"?
  2. How do the speaker's views on life and existence differ from the views of the conventional religious and philosophical figures that he mentions in the poem?
  3. Does the fact that the speaker doesn't know where the Soul is headed make his metaphor of the cosmic journey less, or more, believable? Why?
  4. How might the speaker respond to the cliché that life is a journey, not a destination?

Chew on This

The metaphor of existence as travel is spot on. (There's a reason that clichés are so popular, you know.) We're all coming from somewhere and headed somewhere else.

This idea of the cosmic voyage is just a trumped-up attempt to make the speaker's permanent residence in his nonstop vacation-land seem more valid.

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