Study Guide

Where the Sidewalk Ends Quotes

  • Man and the Natural World

    There is a place where the sidewalk ends
    And before the street begins (1-2)

    Before we've even heard about grass or trees, the poem has placed us in a world that we know is far away from the city and the suburbs, because there are no sidewalks or streets there. These lines ask us, what if the world was not marked out in grids of roads and traffic lights? What if there was something out where the streets couldn't reach?

    And there the grass grows soft and white,
    And there the sun burns crimson bright (3-4)

    If we weren't reading carefully, we would think that these lines give us a description of any old nature scene. But, luckily, we've got our thinking hats on, and can detect that there's something up in these lines. These descriptions seem a little… off. So where exactly is this world where the sidewalk ends?

    And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
    To cool in the peppermint wind (5-6)

    Have you heard of a peppermint wind? Or a moon-bird for that matter? Along with the slightly off details of the lines prior to these two, we're starting to realize that nature, in this poem, is not just nature. It's a world where the imagination is most free to run wild.

    Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
    And the dark street winds and bends (7-8)

    Now we get the man part of the "man and the natural world" theme. It's men who drive the cars and work the factories that blow out black smoke, and men who pave and map the windy streets. When we read this poem, we're in a lovely mood throughout the first stanza, but when we hit these two lines it's as if someone has honked an obnoxiously loud car horn.

    Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow (9)

    We can't imagine that these flowers are anything a honeybee would feed on, but all the same, they are a bit of nature creeping into the world of men. So for now, they'll just have to do.

    For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
    The place where the sidewalk ends (15-16)

    What we love about this line is that now, every time Shmoop walks past a chalk drawing on the sidewalk, we can't help but think that it's a secret code written by children, pointing us toward the world where the sidewalk ends.

  • Versions of Reality

    There is a place where the sidewalk ends
    and before the street begins (1-2)

    As we read the poem, the "place where the sidewalk ends" becomes a refrain, reinforcing over and over again the idea of a land beyond the city, where our imagination is freer to wander and wonder.

    And there the grass grows soft and white,
    And there the sun burns crimson bright (3-4)

    The details in these lines show us, for certain, that we're not dealing with the literal end of the sidewalk here. If we were, the grass would be green and the sun would be yellow. Instead, we've delved into the world where everything is possible, if only we can dream it.

    And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
    To cool in the peppermint wind (5-6)

    Even though the world we've found ourselves in isn't actually a real place, we're able to picture it quite well, because of all the details our speaker gives us. The world, while imaginary, is being created for us in a very real way. Maybe real and imaginary aren't as opposite as we might think.

    And we'll go where the chalk-white arrows go (14)

    These chalk-white arrows appear, though we're not really sure where they come from. They take us to the place where the sidewalk ends, and we're expected to blindly follow them, without asking any questions. But, remember, we're no longer in the real world. In this imaginary world, strangers give us candy because they're just being nice, and directions magically appear in chalk to take us to the places we most want to go. Lucky us.

    For the children, they mark, and the children, they know (15)

    This line gives us the idea that children are the best equipped to create marvelous worlds in their minds. They haven't had day jobs or had to scrounge to pay the rent, they have never driven a car and maybe never traveled very far. Yet it's their unfettered imaginations that can take them to worlds that some adults can no longer access – like the magical place where the sidewalk ends.

  • Exploration

    There is a place where the sidewalk ends
    and before the street begins (1-2)

    Now don't these lines just make you want to get out your sleeping bag, your tent, and your pocketknife to go camp out in the woods for a few days? Well, regardless of whether they do or not, it takes an adventurous soul to venture out to an unknown place, beyond the city, where maps are of no use. Are you up for exploring the realm of your own imagination, wherever it may transport you?

    And there the moon-bird rests from his flight (5)

    And there the moon-bird rests from his flight (5)
    Though this line doesn't talk directly about the moon at all, just the mention of the word moon makes us remember the human urge to explore – whether it's the Wild West, the stretches of outer space, or a realm we've created inside our minds. After all, it was this very urge that put a man on the moon in the first place.

    Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black (7)

    What Shmoop loves about this line is that we're being invited along for the ride. After all, what's exploration without having all your buddies along for the ride, or at the very least a sidekick.

    And the dark street winds and bends (8)

    When we think of a street, winding and bending off into the distance, we can't help but think of something else that winds and bends so much we can't tell where it's going: the future. This dark and windy road just might be a metaphor for what lies ahead. While the future may be the most exciting unknown to explore, it might help to take a step back, and explore something that helped us in our past, all the way back to our childhoods: the imagination.

    We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow (10)

    This description of the pace of the exploration makes us think this journey might be an epic one. Perhaps there's such a long journey ahead of us, we have to measure our energy, walking slowly and determinedly into the unknown.

    For the children, they mark, and the children, they know (15)

    It wouldn't suit quite a few adults to think of children as their guides on some unknown exploration. Adults often scoff at children because they think they're too young or they don't know enough. This poem, though, points to something children know better than the rest of us: that is, the way to having a good time using only our imaginations. Go to any nursery school at play time and you'll see what we mean.

  • Youth

    There is a place where the sidewalk ends
    And before the street begins (1-2)

    These lines talk about two very important settings for childhood: the sidewalk and the street. The sidewalk and street may both be in sight of children's parents' watchful eyes. So, of course, the idea of escaping to a place where they can be totally free might be appealing.

    And there the grass grows soft and white (3)

    Anyone who has cleaned a grass stain off a pair of jeans, or seen a child giggle with glee as they roll down a hill, only to complain that they are itchy and scratched up, can understand the significance of this line. Children love to play in grass, but grass in the real world isn't always super pleasant. So a land with grass that's soft and white – no stains or scratches – is a blessing for kids and parents both.

    We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow (10)

    If you've ever taken a long walk with a bunch of kids, you'll know that they are likely to run off with a giant burst of energy, only to quickly become exhausted. So it's often the parents who have to come up with games to keep their children contained and controlled, like counting steps. That's what this line reminds us of: the children are destined for an imaginary place, but they're going to have fun on the way as well.

    And watch where the chalk-white arrows go (11)

    Chalk is something that reminds us very much of children, and one of their favorite ways to have fun on the sidewalk: making maps and pictures and drawing hopscotch courses. Following a path drawn out in chalk would be just the way to enchant a child into imaginative exploration.

    For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
    The place where the sidewalk ends (15-16)

    But there are a lot of things that small children know that adults may have long forgotten – like the wonderful places an active imagination can take you. So at the end of this poem, we have to seek out a child to take us back to the land made of dreams.