Where Does it End?

Cover of Shel Silversteins Where the Sidewalk Ends

The art form known as poetry, been around for a very long time, it may even predate literature itself. What exactly is poetry? Poetry is a form of literature that uses aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language such as phonaesthetics, sound symbolism, and metre to evoke meanings in addition to, or in place of, the prosaic ostensible meaning. The oldest surviving epic poem, the epic of Gilgamesh, dates to all the way back to the 3rd millennium BC.

Image of oldest surviving poem, The Epic of Gilgamesh

There’s been many different types of poets throughout history such as William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, and Theodor Seuss Geisel or better known as Dr. Seuss. All these poets have their own style to them that makes them different from the others. When looking at a poem there may not always be a clear cut meaning to it, usually leading to many different interpretations of one single poem. Another famous poet, the author of the focal text for this essay, is Shel Silverstein. And even in Shel Silberstein’s work you can see that there are many different interpretations of his work.

First off, let me tell you a little about Shel Silverstein. Shel Silverstein was an American poet, singer-songwriter, cartoonist, screenwriter, and author of children’s books. Silverstein was born in 1930 and sadly died from a heart attack in 1999. Some of his notable works are A Boy Named Sue, The Giving Tree and the focal text for this essay, Where the Sidewalk Ends. Where the Sidewalk Ends, written in 1974, is a collection of poetry that was intended for readers of the younger ages. All the poems and the drawings were written and illustrated by Silverstein. The book’s poems address many common childhood concerns, such as school and puberty, and also presents purely fanciful stories. But like said before, there are many different ways to interpret poems. And this can be seen within Silverstein Where the Sidewalk Ends. Many of the poems in his book have been interpreted in different ways by different critics. One of these poems that have had different interpretations is the poem “Where the Side Walk Ends”.

Shel Silverstein

One of the main poems in Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends is also titled “Where the Sidewalk Ends”. The poem reads as followed:

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
 And before the street begins,
 And there the grass grows soft and white,
 And there the sun burns crimson bright,
 And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
 To cool in the peppermint wind.
 
 Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
 And the dark street winds and bends.
 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
 To the place where the sidewalk ends.
 
 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
 The place where the sidewalk ends.

This poem could be considered the number one poem for the novel itself. The poem has been read by many and has more than just one interpretation by readers. One Interpretation of “Where the Sidewalk Ends” was written by Kyle Young in a blog he wrote about the piece. In his interpretation, Young believes that “Where the Sidewalk Ends” is a poem about a place where things are better than they are here. In the poem Silverstein says that “And there the grass grows soft and white, and there the sun glows crimson bright”.(Silverstein 64) Young believes that in this place that Silverstein is describing, the sun is much brighter and the grass much softer and it seems to be a better place. Young points out that Silverstein uses words like “peppermint wind” to show the childlike glow that this imaginary place has. Young then states that “These words are setting the mood for our imaginations to take over and think of an amazingly perfect place. Silverstein is trying to get us away from the “place where the smoke blows black and the dark street winds and bends”. He is saying that we should “free ourselves from the world full of pollution and concrete and go to the beautiful place where the sidewalk ends” (Young).

Young then goes on to talk about what the tone of the poem is. He feels that the overall tone to the poem seems to be that we can be better off than we are if we just “go where the chalk white arrows go and for the children, they mark, and the children, they know”. (Young) Young then states that:

“Silverstein is encouraging us to change here and is saying that we need to have the innocence of children instead of being so corrupted. He is saying that if we could all believe in things like the sidewalk coming to an end in a magical place we would stop with so much of our polluting and wastefulness. Silverstein seems to want everyone to be kids” (Young).
Image of two kids hugging from Shel Silversteins poem “Hug o War”

What you just read is one way that the poem has been interpreted by readers of the poem. But there is also another way that it has been interpreted, a little deeper interpretation. This Interpretation was actually written by an author in response to Kyle Young’s post on “Where the Sidewalk Ends”. This author of the response was Wamchag Lin, an author from China. Lin puts a more true meaning behind this poem, one that you wouldn’t expect a young child to understand. In Lins interpretation, the poem so clearly represents the passage of life to death. The wonderful place that Shel describes “Where The Sidewalk Ends” is basically heaven. Lin then states that “The sidewalk that he (Silverstein) describes in such a dark dreary way is the troubles of life and the poem talks about the steady pace in which one walks to their death. It also says the children know this so well and this references the fact that children often come across the point in their lives where they must learn to cope with their own mortality and for many people they turn to religion or other beliefs that support a heavenly afterlife.”(Lin)

Both Young and Lin’s interpretations are unique and special in their own way but at the same time their interpretations are very different from one another. Young interprets a deeper metaphorical meaning to the poem while Lin’s interpretation was more of metaphorical look on life. Young felt as if the poems meaning is that there is a better place where the sidewalk ends. The sidewalk being the hard times or the problems that one is facing in their life. And once one gets to the end of that sidewalk they reach a place where thing are better than they were. “A place where the grass grows soft and white, and there the sun glows crimson bright”. (Silverstein 64) But Like said before, Lin’s interpretation has a more metaphorical look on life to it. His interpretation was centered on the idea of life and death. Lin saw the sidewalk being life and once you reach where the sidewalk ends you have reached death and heaven. Heaven being that “place where the grass grows soft and white, and there the sun glows crimson bright”. (Silverstein 64)

As you can see these two interpretations of this poem are two totally different interpretations of the same poem. People can read the same poem but form totally different interpretations of it, including myself. The interpretation that I have made after reading this poem is different from the two that was just talked about. After reading the poem “Where the Sidewalk Ends” I felt as the poems meaning had nothing to do with things being better than they are here or Life after death. But instead I feel as there is a simpler interpretation. I believe that Silverstein was referring to new beginnings in the poem, talking about a fresh start. Silverstein created a new beginning, a fresh start, where the street starts and the sidewalk ends. Once you get to the where that sidewalk ends nothing matters. For when you cross over to where the road begins, everything that has happened is erased and your fresh start has begun. That is how my interpretation of the poem is completely different from the other two interpretations of the poem.

Image of man crossing the road

As you can see, my interpretation is different from both Young and Lin. My interpretation wasn’t a deep metaphorical one like Young or a more realistic one like Lin. But instead when I read the poem my interpretation is a more straight forward. To me, when the sidewalk ends a fresh start begins. You get to the end of the sidewalk and you just start over, it’s as simple as that. There’s nothing to do with life or death like Lin believes or a better place out there at the end of the sidewalk like Young believes. I feel that this new fresh start can be considered the “place where the grass grows soft and white, and there the sun glows crimson bright” that Shel Silverstein is writing about.

To conclude, when you sit down and read a poem, some thinking must be done. Poems aren’t like novels where the meaning and themes are easy to establish. For a poem the meaning takes some time and thought to figure it out. And usually people interpret many different meanings from the same poem. This can be seen from the Three different interpretations of the poem “Where the Sidewalk Ends”. All three readers, including myself, read the same exact poem but mange to get three different interpretations after reading it. And I bet after reading the poem yourself, you have a different interpretation from mine and the other two readers. That’s the thing about poetry, one reader might see it one way and a different reader will see it another way. But neither of these readers are incorrect with their different ways of seeing the poem. With poetry there meaning behind a poem isn’t straight forward given to you but instead it’s up to the reader to figure out the meaning behind the poem. Since every reader is different from each other, multiple interpretations are created. Each interpretation is different from each other but all correct in their own way.

Acknowledgements

First off, I want to thank my group members, Rachel and Kaylynn, for their critics of my essay. They provided me with useful information that made my essay better. I also want to thank Lindsey, for she also gave me some last critics that made my essay better. I want to give a big thanks to my professor, Professor Joe Harris, for taking the time and reviewing each draft of my essay and providing me with very valuable feedback. And for helping me to develop my essay into what it is now. This feedback helped me make my essay a strong piece. Finally, I want to give one last thanks to my former elementary school teacher, Mrs. Franz, for introducing Shel Silverstein into my life when I was in the second grade.

Authors Note

The Development of this essay wasn’t an easy one. The essay started of very weak, but by making changes that was suggested by Professor Harris and member of my class it started to develop into a stronger piece. As I gradually made these changes, the strengthening of the essay could be seen making the final piece a lot better than the first version. I feel most proud about how I compared the interpretations to one another. I feel that this was the strongest part of my essay.

Bibliography

Lin, Wamchag, “Where the Sidewalk Ends” http://kyleysenglishblog.blogspot.com/2007/12/where-sidewalk-ends.html December 2 2007

Silverstein, Shel Where the Sidewalk Ends, Harper Lee Publications 1974

Young, Kyle “Where the Sidewalk Ends” http://kyleysenglishblog.blogspot.com/2007/12/where-sidewalk-ends.html December 2 2007

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