Where the Sidewalk Ends Summary
We start out with a description of the wonderful world where the sidewalk ends. This seems to be a magical, mystical world, where nothing is quite normal, but everything is awesome. Once we have a taste of the world beyond sidewalks, we hear a little about the world where the sidewalk reigns. It's not quite as awesome, to say the least.
Next, we hear a little bit about the journey from one place to the other. A big part of the fun of going to the world where the sidewalk ends is just getting there. The journey is nice and slow and marked out by arrows drawn by children. In the end, it's children that have the closest connection to the place where the sidewalk ends.
There is a place where the sidewalk ends
- And off we go! This line repeats the title, setting up a lilting or playful rhythm. Of course this line is simply giving us information, but it also opens the door to imagination. Here, we can start thinking about what the place where the sidewalk ends might be like. Is it the last little stretch before the houses and yards get too big to be connected by the sidewalk? Or is it the place where the sidewalk ends and turns into someone's yard? Or is it something even more imaginative than that?
- If you're reading this in print form (which we hope you are, there's nothing like holding a Shel Silverstein book in hand), there's a big hint about what this place is supposed to be right on the front cover of Where the Sidewalk Ends.
- The illustration shows two kids and a dog hanging off the edge of a strip of sidewalk, which stops abruptly in midair.
- Judging from that image, the place where the sidewalk ends is most likely a mystical place. It's beyond anywhere we've ever been, away from the city and into the furthest reaches of the imagination. And going there requires a leap of faith.
And before the street begins,
- This line gives us more information about the place where the sidewalk ends, but in a whimsical way. Instead of saying that the street ends at the same place the sidewalk ends, the speaker flips it around, saying that the street begins there.
- This makes us think in terms of time, not just space. If the place is before the street begins, could it be that this land comes from a long, long time ago, when the world was a very different place indeed, and things like moon-birds flew free? Perhaps.
- Yet we can also think about a park, or a farm—anywhere that's ruled by dirt paths and grass, rather than pavement and bricks. There are no streets or sidewalks there, somehow making lots of things suddenly seem more possible.
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
- Okay, place, let's dig in. These two lines give us some physical details about the place where the sidewalk ends, but they don't remind us of any place we know of, except for maybe in our deepest dreams.
- The grass grows, left alone, we can guess, by pesky lawn mowers. It's not green and itchy like normal grass, but soft and white (like snow, but warm). We bet it's the best possible surface imaginable on which to run, play, and roll around. Awesome.
- Also, the sun isn't yellow or gold, but crimson bright. Crimson is a deep shade of red. At first, it might seem pretty creepy to have a red sun, but then again, sometimes the sun turns crimson when it sets, and all the clouds turn glorious shades of purple and pink. So having a crimson sun might mean that the world always looks like a perfect, glowing sunset scene. It's never too hot, never too cold, and the clouds reflect brilliant colors. Again, awesome.
- When we read these lines, we start to realize that we're probably not talking about an actual, real place. This isn't someone's front yard, or the outskirts of town.
- The details about this world show us that it's nothing that could actually be found in the real world. That means it's probably a metaphor for something.
- We'll track this metaphor line by line as we go along, but we can already guess that the place where the sidewalk ends just might represent the wonderful world we can create without imaginations. After all, the speaker himself must be imagining this one.
- Also, check out the alliteration in "grass grows," and the rhyme at the end of the lines. For more on the effects of these, check out "Sound Check."
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.
- Now we get a better idea of the atmosphere in this mysterious but awesome place.
- First, there's a new kind of bird we've never heard about, a moon-bird, and he's hanging out, just resting after a long flight – maybe even all the way from the moon?
- Oh, and before we forget: did you notice that line 5 is the last of four lines that start with "And there"? Repeating the same phrase at the beginning of a line is a tool called anaphora, and poets use it to add emphasis. In this case, Shmoop thinks our poet might have repeated this phrase to emphasize just how awesome this place where the sidewalk ends is. He lists one thing after another, and they all sound spectacular.
- It's also worth noting that each line in our anaphora ends in the same rhyme – "white," "bright," and "flight." There's clearly some kind of rhyme scheme going on here, but we haven't quite figured out the pattern yet.
- Okay, now back to that moon-bird. He's not just taking your average rest. The wind that bore him on his flight isn't just normal wind – it's peppermint! Other than being a really fun word to read aloud, peppermint might possibly be the best flavor imaginable for wind, if wind could carry flavors.
- Imagine breathing in a slight taste of peppermint every time you took a breath. Your breath would never get stale, and you'd always be refreshed with sharp sweetness.
- This world is really starting to sound awesome now, but feel free to keep going and fill in the gaps of what you would like to see there. After this stanza, anything seems possible in the place where the sidewalk ends.
Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
- These lines give us details about the world where there is sidewalk, and so far, that world does not sound pleasant at all.
- The speaker is including us, his readers, in his invitation to leave the world where there is sidewalk, the world in which we live our everyday lives.
- If you live anywhere near a city, you'll probably have an idea of the kind of smoke he's talking about. It blows black out of factories, chimneys, car and truck exhaust pipes, and grimes up everything from the sidewalks to the inside of your nostrils. Yuck..
- Line 7 is in direct contrast to line 6: what would you choose, black smoke, or peppermint wind? The choice is made pretty easy for us readers.
- And of course, Silverstein pops in another dose of alliteration with the phrase "blows black." Does this have the same effect as the alliteration in line three?
- Saying it this way (instead of the "black smoke blows") also puts stress on the word black, which emphasizes the darkness of this place.
- Line 8 continues to give details about the world we're being encouraged to leave. Not only is there gross black smoke, there are dark streets, probably lined by sidewalk.
- The street winds and bends, and we're guessing there's some new scary darkness around every corner. This description makes us want to leave the city streets to go to a place where there are no scary winding and bending roads, but where the whole horizon is open to be fearlessly explored.
- Line 8 opens up all kinds of metaphorical meanings for us. Streets and roads are often used as metaphors for the future. Perhaps, this line is hinting that unless we get out of the place where the smoke blows black our lives will be full of dark twists and turns.
- And how about this? The word "winds" in line 8, sure does look a lot like the word "wind" in line 6. But they have totally different meanings. Do you think this was intentional on the poet's part? Why?
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
- This line shows us even more of the dark beauty of the world we're in, the world the speaker wants us to journey beyond.
- There are pits here, and in these pits, there are "asphalt flowers." We can imagine a lone flower sticking up through the asphalt – something beautiful in this paved, industrial, yucky world.
- Check out the repetition of the p and t sounds in "past the pits" and "asphalt." Yep, this poem is just as fun to read aloud as it is to imagine silently.
- We're starting to notice that Silverstein's quite the alliterative guy. Why do you think he uses that tool so much?
- Also, remember that as we're hearing about this asphalt world, we're being urged to go beyond it, to leave it far behind.
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
- This line is telling us exactly how we're going to get past the asphalt pits and black smoke to the world where the sidewalk ends – by walking slowly.
- Note how the word walk is repeated in this line. Now, that's no mistake on our speaker's part, but it might have to be read aloud to be fully appreciated. Imagine the slap of footsteps on pavement with each beat of this line, the repetition of the word "walk" giving us the rhythm of this slow pace.
- Plus, it's yet another example of alliteration, especially when you toss in "we" and "with."
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.
- In case we've been dragged too deeply into the scary world of the previous lines, these lines remind us that we're heading to where the sidewalk ends. Whew.
- We're also told that we can get there by following arrows: we'll watch the arrows as we walk and they'll bring us to where we need to be.
- These arrows are chalk-white, which is more a description of the color than an explanation of how they are made. At least, that's all we can know from this line. So, while the arrows may or may not be drawn in chalk, they look like they are.
- At any rate, when we think of chalk drawings, we think of children, making designs and scribbling with chalk on pavement, turning a black street or gray sidewalk into a canvas.
- And here comes the kicker: the last line of the stanza is a repetition, slightly altered, of the title and the first line. This line is becoming a rhythmic refrain, reminding us of the most important part of this poem, our ultimate destination: the place of wonder away from all the icky pavement.
Yes we'll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we'll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
- These lines are a repetition, with slight variation, of lines 10-11. The differences make it seem like the speaker is even more determined to get to the place where the sidewalk ends.
- For example, the line begins with an emphatic "yes," and instead of saying "we shall," the speaker says "we'll," which is an abbreviated form of "we will." We're left with no doubt about whether or not this journey will happen.
- And just in case you're still a skeptic, the speaker says that instead of just "watch[ing]" where the arrows go, "we'll go" where they go.
- So, if we were unsure before about heading out of the city to a more magical place, now, we're absolutely gung-ho. We're definitely going to go, taking our sweet time, following the signs left for us. Come along, and invite your friends, your uncles, your dogs, and even your enemies to enter a world where all your troubles will surely disappear.
- Finally, there are some interesting things going on with sound here. See how "chalk" in line 14 falls almost exactly where "walk" falls in the line before? This is something we call internal rhyme, because instead of rhyming at the ends of the lines, the rhymes fall somewhere in the middle. See if you can spot other places this happens in the poem.
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.
- These lines, like the last two lines of the second stanza, repeat the central idea of going to the place where the sidewalk ends, and give us a new detail about just how to get there.
- Our readers who are children can rejoice here. Finally, someone is listening to them!
- In fact, they seem to know a whole lot more about how to get to the sidewalk's end than anyone else. The children mark what we might guess are the chalk-white arrows, because they know how to get to the place where the sidewalk ends.
- Note the repetition of the word "children." This is kind of like the repetition of the word "walk" in lines 10 and 13. It really beats home the rhythm, and it also emphasizes the fact that children are the resident experts when it comes to escaping the paved world.
- To truly understand these lines, we have to go back to the metaphorical meaning of this poem, because we're guessing that these children would get in a bundle of trouble if they actually went wandering out to the outskirts of the city, marking chalk arrows behind them. Their poor parents would have a fit.
- So back we travel to the idea that the place where the sidewalk ends is inside our heads, in the wild world of the imagination. We can find ourselves a little strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street, and imagine that we are out with the moon-birds in the peppermint wind.
- And really, folks, who better to show us how to imagine than children?