For National Poetry Month: Walt Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road”

Since it’s National Poetry Month, I’m sharing my favorite poetry with you. I hope you’ll share with me too!

I’m fairly new to “Song of the Open Road,” having just “discovered” it in 2014. Before then, I’d pretty much stuck to the well-known Walt Whitman poems celebrating President Lincoln or the ever-popular “Song of Myself.”

But I am so happy I finally spent some time with my copy of Leaves of Grass because this long poem met me where I was in my life and accompanied me a ways down the road.

In the long-ish poem (though relatively short for a Whitman ramble), the speaker speaks about the longing to run away from the world, a longing I think we all feel now and then. He travels, meets people, and realizes many things about himself along the way. And, in that way Whitman has of articulating what it means to ramble and to celebrate life, he invites us to walk with him for awhile.

You can read the entire poem here. But here are some of my favorite verses:

from section 1:

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.

The earth, that is sufficient,
I do not want the constellations any nearer,
I know they are very well where they are,
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.

from section 5:

I inhale great draughts of space,
The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.

I am larger, better than I thought,
I did not know I held so much goodness.

from section 11:

Listen! I will be honest with you,
I do not offer the old smooth prizes, but offer rough new prizes,
These are the days that must happen to you:
You shall not heap up what is call’d riches,
You shall scatter with lavish hand all that you earn or achieve,
You but arrive at the city to which you were destin’d, you hardly settle yourself to satisfaction before you are call’d by an irresistible call to depart,
You shall be treated to the ironical smiles and mockings of those who remain behind you,
What beckonings of love you receive you shall only answer with passionate kisses of parting,
You shall not allow the hold of those who spread their reach’d hands toward you.

from section 15:

Camerado, I give you my hand!
I give you my love more precious than money,
I give you myself before preaching or law;
Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?


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