Where the Sidewalk Ends (poem)
Where the Sidewalk Ends is a 1974 poem by Shel Silverstein, and the title poem of the collection of the same name. Both the poem and the book gained instant fame and were deemed classics of children's literature.
There have been several analyses and interpretations of Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends, but among them all, a general conclusion has been drawn. Silverstein is famous for being a children's poet, yet many of the ideas tucked in the corner of Where the Sidewalk Ends are made for adults. Silverstein argues that adults live in a world that is dreary, and that children live in a world full of life and joy. Silverstein is saying that adults need to go to the place that children know; essentially telling adults to take a step back and to take on the point of view of a child to find the life and joy that they have.
Silverstein begins the poem by describing the place where the sidewalk ends. This place that is only encountered by the imagination. As he mentions the grass growing "soft and white" and also the "cooling of the peppermint wind," we know that this is a mental state, how someone views the world. Finding the place where the sidewalk ends may not as much be about finding an actual place rather than reaching a certain mental state.
As Silverstein writes in the second stanza, saying " Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black And the dark street winds and bends" He is referencing the world that adults live in, the one that is far from what he described as the place where the sidewalk ends. Yes, this could be taken literally, as adults live and work in urban settings. But just as he has done previously, this description is referring to a state of mind. One that sees the world for everything bad that it possibly possesses, a mindset that is totally lacking in any sort of imagination. There is a transition in the middle of this stanza though, a transition from despair to hope, hope of achieving the child like imagination that is found where the sidewalk ends. He says "and watch where the chalk-white arrows go To the place where the sidewalk ends" Meaning that if you are alert and aware, the hopeless mindset adult can find a way to get to the place where the sidewalk ends.
The final stanza is simple. "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." Silverstein is saying yes, we'll follow the arrows and we'll go. Yes, we will open our minds and look for the signs to find the place where the sidewalk ends. "The children, they mark, and the children, they know" Silverstein is coming forward and saying simply, the children mark the way. Follow the children because they know the place where the sidewalk ends.
Looking more in depth at this poem makes clear what Shel Silverstein is saying. Do what the children do. They know the place where the sidewalk ends. And in doing so, you will find the joy and passion for life that they have. When he says to follow the markings of the children and you will find the place where the sidewalk ends, it is not a literal command to physically follow them. Rather he is saying put on the mindset of a child and you will, in turn, find the imagination and joy and innocence that children have. Children do not have to work at finding the place where the sidewalk ends, they know. They know because they know nothing else, the joyful, imaginative mindset they have is purely natural. While adults minds have been influenced by the hardships of the world, and in turn have to work at finding the place where the sidewalk ends. Adults must leave behind the black smoke and look beyond the dark streets that come with adulthood in order to truly find the place where the sidewalk ends.
Shel Silverstein's influence on poetry has been said to have the ability to “Convince children that poetry is neither difficult nor threatening,” he was also able to “understand common childhood thoughts and anxieties.” and his poem, Where the Sidewalk Ends, is no different. Its easy to read, silly vocabulary in combination with the underlying idea that children in fact have the secret to "where the sidewalk ends" makes it fun for children to read. Also, Silverstein had a special insight into the mind of a child, and understood the children's way of thinking relaying that into "Where the Sidewalk Ends." Where the Sidewalk Ends has become a children's poetry launch point, and its lighthearted, engaging style has propelled children to dive into more of Silverstein's poetry and in some cases more poetry in general. Where the Sidewalk Ends, is now a children's poetry classic, and has shaped much of the modern children's poetry that is published today.
Silverstein has written several books, including Don't Bump the Glump, and arguably his most famous, The Giving Tree. Silverstein has also written several collections of poetry similar to the book, Where the Sidewalk Ends. Those include A Light in the Attic, Falling Up and The Missing Piece. Whatif, Hug O War, Bear in There, and Ticklish Tom are among Silverstein's other most famous poems. Poets similar to Silverstein include Dr. Seuss, Eloise Greenfield and Robert Louis Stevenson.