Dr. Seuss? You must have meant Shel Silverstein…

Where the Sidewalk EndsWhere the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

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.

I never grew up reading Dr. Seuss. Rather, our elementary school was obsessed with Shel Silverstein. I loved Shel Silverstein’s illustrations.  My favorites were poems from “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and “Falling Up”. Silverstein had a way of writing that enticed children through the use of rhymes and child-centered themes.  This poem reminds me of a child’s curiosity–leaving the norms of civilized city or suburban life and wandering out into nature, beyond the confines of human civilization.  Wandering into nature is reinforced through “the grass grows soft and white” “past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow”, as well as the illustration where the city skyline is far off in the distance, and they are on the edge of what appears to be nowhere. There is sense of trepidation alongside curiosity in the illustration, as the dog clings for life and the children cautiously look for what lies beyond the sidewalk edge.  The sign “EDGE Keep Off!” serves as a reminder that children should not go there and represents the protective barriers that we as adults try to enforce for children.  The poem/illustration also has flashes of Alice in Wonderland motifs since the chalk-white arrows are synonymous with following the White Rabbit; the boy looks down the edge just like Alice looked down the rabbit hole; the children, like Alice, are wandering to places they were not allowed to go. “soft and white” “sun burns crimson bright” indicate the bright, vibrant, yet forbidden world that pulls children from their dreary city life “where the smoke blows black” much like boredom pulled Alice into Wonderland; The contrast between the vibrant peaceful world of where the sidewalk ends and the dark, sooty city is strong. Ultimately “Where the Sidewalk Ends” may lead to a place of discovery and enlightenment as those who venture forth learn new things and are one step closer to young adulthood.  The illustration does not provide the scenery mentioned in the poem but nevertheless, it does not matter what goes there; in this way it serves as a blank canvass to whatever a child’s imagination, or the readers can fill.

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1 Comment

  1. shelahw said,

    September 25, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    A truly beautiful interpretation/transcription. I’m looking forward to reading your paper!


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