Study Guide

Where the Sidewalk Ends Themes

  • Man and the Natural World

    "Where the Sidewalk Ends" is all about the world of nature that lies beyond the borders of the city. You could also see this place as being even further away, in a supernatural world that can only exist in our imaginations. Of course, this imaginary world is in some way represented by images from nature. Moon-birds and peppermint wind might not actually be anything like the world of nature we're used to, but they are based on things we find in nature. The city represents, then, the world of the everyday and mundane that our imaginations help us to escape.

    Questions About Man and the Natural World

    1. Where is your favorite place to go in nature? What is it like, compared to the nature described in this poem?
    2. What do you think the speaker's feelings are toward the city? What in the poem makes you think this?
    3. What does the phrase "asphalt flowers," in line 9, mean to you? Why?      
    4. What do you think that nature represents, figuratively, in this poem? Or does it just represent nature?

    Chew on This

    In this poem, nature represents the world of the imagination, while the city represents the mundane and everyday.

    This poem suggests that happiness can only be found in nature.

  • Versions of Reality

    There's a wild new version of the real world being constructed in "Where the Sidewalk Ends," far far away from any land we've walked to on a sidewalk or even a dirt path through the woods. This reality is an escape from the city that you can make without actually physically leaving the sidewalk. It takes us deep into the land of childhood fantasies, and just because we must use our imaginations to travel to where the sidewalk ends, doesn't make it any less real. Adults and children alike can benefit from a stroll into the alternate reality created in this poem.

    Questions About Versions of Reality

    1. If it were up to you, what would the place where the sidewalk ends be like?
    2. What do you think the place where the sidewalk ends represents?
    3. What is the significance of the details about the place where the sidewalk ends, as given in the first stanza?            
    4. How do the rhythm and rhyme schemes affect the way readers think about the different settings in this poem? Do they change when the poem talks about where the sidewalk ends versus the place from which the speaker is traveling?

    Chew on This

    The place where the sidewalk ends is a metaphor for the imagination.

    This poem views the imagination as a powerful tool to create other realities.

  • Exploration

    Even though the place "Where the Sidewalk Ends" may not actually exist in reality, it definitely exists in our minds, and we still need a sense of adventure and exploration to reach it. Following those chalk-white arrows to an unknown world requires you to be brave and bold. If you're willing, you'll be rewarded with spectacular new discoveries. Once you take that leap, this poem suggests, you'll find yourself in a world unbound by pavement and full of wonder.

    Questions About Exploration

    1. Why do you think the speaker walks so slowly along the path to where the sidewalk ends? Why not hurry up and get there already?
    2. Why do you think the path is marked in "chalk-white" arrows? Does that give us any hints as to what this place might be like? 
    3. Do you think that the place where the sidewalk ends is literal, figurative, or both? Why?      
    4. Do you think the nature imagery in the poem might have something to do with exploration? If so, what's the connection?

    Chew on This

    The exploration depicted in this poem is figurative, reaching into the realms of the imagination rather than an actual physical place.

    The exploration in this poem is literal, depicting a trip into the countryside.

  • Youth

    Though anyone with an imagination could probably find the way to the place where the sidewalk ends on his own, great stress is placed on following the marks made by children. It's children who spend more time than anyone else on the sidewalk, riding bikes or playing hopscotch. It's children who dream up things like moon-birds, and don't think it's strange at all for the wind to smell like peppermint. So it's children who discover the way to the place where the sidewalk ends and the imagination begins. In "Where the Sidewalk Ends," youth is the key to everything.

    Questions About Youth

    1. What exactly does a sidewalk have to do with youth? Do children have a special connection to the sidewalk?
    2. What meaning do you take away from line 15 of this poem: "For the children, they mark, and the children, they know"?
    3. What do you think is the ideal age for a reader of this poem? Why? 
    4. Does this poem remind you of your childhood at all? How so?

    Chew on This

    This poem urges its readers to return to the creativity and innocence of their youth.

    This poem is best when read by an audience of adults, not children, as would be expected, because adults need to be reminded of the value of imagination.