Study Guide

Where the Sidewalk Ends Analysis

  • Sound Check

    The poem takes us to the land where the sidewalk ends with a pace that is measured and slow (yeah, we stole that, we know), but we can't help but feel a little bounce in the poem's step. There is so much to notice when it comes to sounds in this poem that it would be easy to get lost. Luckily Shmoop's here to draw some chalk-white arrows for you, and our arrows all point to – you guessed it – alliteration.

    Alliteration abounds as the poem bounces from sound to sound. On one line "b" sounds surround, and on the next, "p" is all around. There are "g's" and "w's," too. That's all well and good, but what's the point?

    When you read this poem aloud, you can't help but notice that the alliteration adds a sense of fun and whimsy. It gives the lines a bouncing joy that jumps right off the page and into your ears. It makes lines more memorable, and adds emphasis in key places.

    Consider the contrast between the alliterative "grass grows" (3) and "blows black" (7). In both cases, the alliteration helps highlight the qualities of what's being described. We know that the place where the sidewalk ends is awesome, because the grass grows there. It's a pleasant phrase, which makes it all the more unpleasant that smoke blows black in the place with sidewalks.

    Silverstein is a master at playing with sounds this way, which is perhaps why his poems are so popular and memorable. He mixes unforgettable ideas and images with sounds that stick in your brain, which makes all those awesome ideas stick, too.

    When you read this poem (and please, do so out loud!), imagine it drifting along on a peppermint wind. Memorize it to amuse on command, and shout it out when the real world has got you down. But most of all, just have fun with the sounds of this poem. Because fun is what it's all about.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    The title of this poem, "Where the Sidewalk Ends," is also the title of the entire book in which it was published, so we should definitely pay it some attention.

    What's so amazing about this title is that it manages to represent two things at once. For one, it's talking about a fantastical place, a land beyond the city where the sidewalk literally stops. It's a magical place full of crazy things like soft white grass, moon-birds, and peppermint wind.

    However, like most fantasylands, the place where the sidewalk ends is also a metaphor. It represents the world of the imagination, a place we all can travel to no matter when or where – whether we're in a city full of sidewalks or sitting in the middle of a field.

    This title stands for an important idea for children and adults alike: no wonder it's the title of not just this little poem, but an entire book. It sums up what a lot of Silverstein's writing does to his readers: takes them to the place where the sidewalk ends, into the inner workings of their own creative minds.

  • Setting

    We have to do double duty when talking about the setting for this poem, because it takes place in two totally different locations. And bonus, each of these places has both a literal and a figurative meanings. Don't worry, we'll explain.

    Where the Sidewalk Ends

    First, of course, we've got the land where the sidewalk ends. We could go the boring route, and just think of a normal countryside, away from the suburbs and the city. But we could also blast off into a land of fantasy that exists only in our imaginations.

    The speaker of the poem mentions that there are moon-birds flying in peppermint winds over soft white grass, against a perpetual sunset. From there, we are encouraged to imagine all the other lovelinesses living here: gently rolling hills, waterfalls that slide right down into a pool of bubble bath, trees laden with fruits that taste like mint chocolate chip ice cream… okay maybe Shmoop's getting ahead of ourselves, but we can't help thinking, hey, it could happen. Isn't that precisely the point?

    The Other Place

    But a place like this wouldn't be so delightful if it weren't contrasted with anything. So, after the poem describes the wonderful world out where the sidewalk ends, it tells us a little about the world we're escaping – our second setting. This world can be taken to literally mean any city with the black smoke of factories and exhaust, and the endless miles of pavement, bricks, and litter. Although if we're willing to take a bit of a leap, we might guess that the city we're talking about here could be Chicago, where Shel Silverstein is from. Chicago is big, industrial, and chock-full of sidewalks, so it would certainly fit the bill.

    We can also think about it more figuratively and transplant the bleak city world into the realm of our own mind. Maybe it represents the dark parts of our brain, the places where all the joy and innocence has been worn away by the daily grind.

    But, luckily, if we pay attention to some simple signs left for us by the child inside us all, we can get to the world where the sidewalk ends. We don't even have to leave the city or even our chair (yay!), because the world where the sidewalk ends is inside our heads.

  • Speaker

    Unfortunately we don't know a single personal detail about our speaker. But by reading his lines, we can hazard some guesses about our guy. Maybe he's a father, maybe an uncle, maybe a teacher, or maybe he's even a kid himself. To be fair, he could also not be a guy at all – we just don't know!

    In any case, he has somehow figured out that kids know best. And we're willing to bet he's sick of working hard and being trapped in a world with black smoke and asphalt. He's totally ready for some peppermint wind. Either way, we'll gladly take him as our guide to the place where our imagination stretches the realm of the possible nice and wide.

    And one thing's totally for sure: our speaker is a whimsical soul. He has a wild imagination and wants everyone else to join him in wandering the world of the mind, the world that can rescue us from all the ugly troubles of our lives. He'll take us from the city street to a magical world where everything seems much more pleasant.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    Sea Level (2)

    Sail the ship of imagination to the world of your wildest dreams. This poem is easy for a child to read, but might be difficult for anyone, regardless of age, who tries too hard to be grown-up.

  • Calling Card

    Insight in Disguise

    While at first glance it may seem that Silverstein's poetry is simply splendidly silly, when you look again, you can see that behind the whimsical drawings and rhymes hides a world view that offers insight, inspiration, and sometimes even sorrow.

    For example, in "Where the Sidewalk Ends," behind the fanciful rhymes, the moon-birds, and the arrows in chalk, lies a message about the power of imagination to rescue us from a world that threatens us with darkness and despair. Silverstein draws us in with the fun of his sounds, and sticks with us through the depth of his messages. While kids love his poems, it may be adults who can benefit from their messages most.

  • Form and Meter

    Shel Silverstein Special

    Rhyme! Rhythm! Rhetorical flare! Yep, there's no shortage of all that in "Where the Sidewalk Ends," but Shel Silverstein doesn't follow any set rules: there's no special name for the form and meter of this poem.

    Rhyme (with Some Reason)

    Let's start with the rhyme scheme. In the first two stanzas, the first line stands alone, not rhyming with anything. Then the second line roughly rhymes with the last line:

    And before the street begins,(2)

    To cool in the peppermint wind (6).

    The third, fourth, and fifth lines rhyme with each other.

    And there the grass grows soft and white,
    And there the sun burns crimson bright,
    And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
    (3-5)

    Got all that? It's a little random, but there seems to be some method to the madness: it makes it so there are lots of repetitions in the sounds, but it's not too overwhelming or boring. (The second stanza follows this pattern, too.)

    Then, the last stanza does something pretty cool: it combines some of the major sounds from the stanzas before it. Let's take a closer look: the last line repeats the very first line, almost exactly:

    There is a place where the sidewalk ends (1)

    The place where the sidewalk ends (16)

    It's kind of like a refrain, or a phrase that occurs over and over again. Also, the rhyme in this stanza isn't only limited to itself: it actually rhymes with some of the lines from the previous stanza! Check it out:

    Yes we'll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
    And we'll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
    For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
    (13-15)

    Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
    We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,

    And watch where the chalk-white arrows go (8-10)

    So throughout the poem, we hear repeats of old sounds, but welcome some new ones, too.

    Rhythm (and Some Blues)

    The rhythm of the poem isn't very clear-cut. Unlike many technical, formal poems, the stressed and unstressed syllables vary so much in this poem depending on how you read it aloud that it's hard to pin down exactly what kind of meter, or rhythm, the poem is in.

    There are a few things we can point to, though. All of the lines have between three and five beats, or stressed syllables. The rhythm in the lines is fun to read aloud, without being so set in stone that it's sing-songy. The rhythm especially catches our attention in the first stanza, where the repetition of "and there" at the beginning of the lines creates a few lines of iambic tetrameter.

    You might be thinking, "Iamba tetra whaa…?". But don't worry, Shmoop has your back. An iamb is a set of two syllables in which the first syllable is unstressed, and the second is stressed (da-DUM). And tetra just means there are four of them. And We'll show you an example from the poem. The stressed syllables are in bold and italic:

    and there the grass grows oft and white."

    See? The line has four stressed syllables, each of which follows an unstressed one. Simple, fun to read aloud, and easy to spot, this line sets up what seems to be the driving iambic rhythm behind the poem. But of course, there is a good bit of variation to keep things fresh.

    There are a couple of other places where the poem sticks to a strict meter. More specifically, lines 10, 13, and 15 are in (here comes another scary term!) anapestic tetrameter. Okay, we've already got the tetrameter thing down, right? It just means the line has four metrical feet (i.e. whatever it is happens four times). But what does it mean when that tetrameter is anapestic? Well, an anapest is similar to an iamb, only instead of one unstressed syllable, the anapest has two unstressed syllables before the beat, like the word comprehend. Let's take a look at line 10 to see what we mean:

    We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow.

    One thing anapestic meter is known for is the galloping rhythm it creates. It's often used in poems to create a sense of speed, so it's a bit funny that it's being used here in a line about walking slowly, with a measured pace. Perhaps our poet meant to set up a contrast, or perhaps he meant for the anapestic meter to create a kind of plodding feeling, rather than a galloping one.

    Of course, in a poem that is all about using the imagination, the speaker wouldn't stick to some predefined form. So much of the poem is a big old messy mixture of anapests and iambs. It makes it a little more difficult for us as readers to figure out how things work, but in the end, we still have good fun with the play of rhyme and rhythm in this poem. It keeps us on our toes.

  • Nature

    This poem uses nature to show the stretches of the imagination. But this isn't nature as we know it: it's kind of a dream world. It's a place where nature takes forms that would only be possible in the imagination.

    • Title and Line 1: When we think about the sidewalk ending, we immediately think about nature. Sidewalks are a thing of the city and the suburbs, but they stop when the houses get far away from each other and slowly turn into farms. Yet, as we read the poem, we find that the place where the sidewalk ends is also a metaphor, representing the power of human creativity and imagination to help us escape from the troubles of the everyday world.
    • Line 2: This line reinforces the idea that the place where the sidewalk ends is out in nature, far away even from streets. The choice of the word "street" is significant, because we associate "road" with country roads, and "street" with city streets. So while there may still be roads where the sidewalk ends, there certainly aren't any streets.
    • Line 3: Now we find out what's not quite real about the world where the sidewalk ends. Instead of being green and kind of scratchy, the grass in this world is soft and white. This builds an image for us readers as well as clueing us in to the imaginative, figurative meaning of the poem. Plus, there's that alliteration in "grass grows" to add a little bounce to our step as we keep reading.
    • Line 4: The sun is an important force in nature. Plants and animals alike rely on the sun to help them grow and keep them warm. This sun, however, seems stuck in a perpetual glowing sunset, with a glorious crimson hue.
    • Line 5: The animals found here almost sound super-natural. Mystical sounding moon-birds flit around, building the sense of this place as a magical, metaphorical world of wonder.
    • Line 6: Even the wind on which the moon-bird flies isn't your average wind. It's peppermint! Now this may not be your wind of choice, but imagine that the wind had a taste or scent of your choosing. We suspect something like that would be possible in this new world. You could have chocolate wind, or caramel wind, or grape wind – anything your imagination can dream up. After all, this world is a metaphor for the imagination, and more supernatural than natural, so there are no rules.
    • Line 9: Even in the asphalt of the city, images of nature persist. What do these asphalt flowers make you think of? Could they be flowers poking up out of the cracks in a parking lot? Are they flowers literally made out of hot black asphalt? Or could they be metaphors for all the living things that survive in the city – everything from pigeons to a poor kid struggling to find something to eat to a stockbroker hurrying down the street in his suit? Whatever they represent, the image of asphalt flowers makes us yearn even more to escape the world of the city, so we can see some flowers in their natural habitat.
    • Line 10: Walking slowly but surely seems to be the best possible way to enjoy nature, soaking it in as your feet crunch the grass, and not as you roll by it in a car or a train. Imagine yourself on a lovely stroll through imaginary worlds where the animals and plants sprout up as your heart desires, and even the wind follows your every whim.
  • The City

    In this poem, imagery of the bleak city contrasts the brilliance of nature. Throughout the poem, the city becomes a metaphor for industrialization, and the demands of life that force us to no longer be children, inside and out.

    • Lines 1-2: The sidewalk and the street automatically make us think of city life. In fact, you might even say they're symbols of the city. These first two lines are showing us that the preferred place of the poem's speaker is far away from streets and sidewalks.
    • Line 7: This line paints the image of the city as dark and black. Though the speaker never comes straight out and tells us we're in a city, his imagery places us somewhere industrial and polluted. Oh, and did you notice the alliteration in this line with the repeated "b" sound in blows and black?
    • Line 8: So the street we heard of before is not only a sign of the suburbs of the city, but it's dark and windy. We can think of a winding street as a metaphor for our path through the future, and this one doesn't sound all that awesome. We'd rather be out in a meadow with a moon-bird.
    • Line 9: This line smushes together the two worlds of the poem, merging nature imagery (flowers) with city imagery (asphalt). Does the line give the city some credit? It does admit that some things do grow there. Although, we've got to say an asphalt flower doesn't sound like anything we'd want to give someone in a bouquet.
    • Line 11: If there were anything that would lead out of this grim place, it would be arrows in chalk, drawn by children on the sidewalk. At least one merit of the sidewalk is that it can be drawn on by chalk.
    • Line 15: Children seem to be associated with the world of nature and imagination in this poem, which would mean that adults should perhaps be associated with the city. Maybe, this poem is telling us, we need nature to help us keep in touch with the child inside of us.
    • Steaminess Rating

      G

      This poem takes us back to a land far too pure and innocent to involve sex. So read it aloud to whomever you'd like, and prepare for quite a hike back to the realm of the untarnished imagination.