Sunday, December 9, 2012

Finding Where the Sidewalk Ends

             Shel Silverstein’s poem Where the Sidewalk Ends is a classic children’s poem that many—young and old alike—are familiar with. While the poem is relatively short with a simple message, its strong use of repetition and parallelism makes it approachable for children, and the sense of childhood nostalgia it creates invites older readers as well.
            The entire poem contains many figures of speech, but two that Silverstein uses extensively are parallelism and repetition of words and phrases. Through these devices, he creates an emphasis on what is most important in the poem. The use of parallelism, “And there the grass grows soft and white, / And there the sun burns crimson bright, / And there the moon-bird rests from his flight” (3-5) flows in a way that allows for an easy read, well-intentioned for younger readers. Throughout the entire poem, and making the title as well, is the phrase “where the sidewalk ends”. This phrase is repeated in every stanza, marking it to be the desired location of the speaker: “We shall walk…to the place where the sidewalk ends” (10, 12). This use of repetition suggests a purpose to young readers. Silverstein uses conduplicatio in an actually repeated phrase of “we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow”. The alliteration alone of this phrase is pleasing to read, but it does so much more than that. The repetition of walk nearly directly behind itself emphasizes the importance of the action of walking, especially that it is measured and slow. Silverstein is suggesting that there is no rush to find this magical place where the sidewalk ends. He also cleverly switches the form of the same word within one sentence, starting with the verb form of “walk” and using it again as a noun. These various uses of repetition are what make this poem so enjoyable for the juvenile audience of the piece.
            At the same time, Silverstein is also able to appeal to adult readers in the way his descriptive language creates a feeling of nostalgia for the childhood adventures we all remember. Describing a place where “grass grows white”, “the sun burns crimson bright”, and “the moon-bird rests from his flight to cool in the peppermint wind” (3-6) invokes a dream-like feeling, reminding readers of their wide imaginations as children. He also invites readers to “leave this place where the smoke blows black, / And the dark street winds and bends. / Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow” (7-9), symbolizing dark, abysmal adulthood that many wish to escape. Only children know where this place is, but adults can relate in their desire to return there as well.
            “Where the Sidewalk Ends” is a timeless classic that both children and adults can enjoy. Through its lyrical repetition and powerful message conveyed in the subtext, Silverstein has managed to create a successful piece of creativity and innovation. Whether a reader is looking for something to entertain them or for something they can relate to in a greater context, this is a poem that gets the job done.

Mandi Janikowski

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