Study Guide

Where the Sidewalk Ends Man and the Natural World

By Shel Silverstein

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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 littleā€¦ 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.

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