Song of the Open Road Poem Summary & Explanation in English Class 12


Written by the American poet Walt Whitman, this poem was published in the 1855 volume called “Leaves of Grass”. This poem talks about the road of life on which each person undertakes a long journey. Through his poem, the poet tells how he himself walks on this ‘open road’.


Stanza 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.

The poet begins his journey with a light heart. To him, the road seems free and full of possibilities. He is free to make the choice of his path and destination. The destination is not fixed and this makes the road more liberating. He announces his choice as he declares that the road leads to wherever I choose.

The speaker in the poem is thus a light-hearted traveller walking on the open road of life. He wishes that each person who undertakes a journey on the road of life should adopt a similar attitude. 

Stanza 2

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.

In these lines, the speaker declares that he does not believe in destiny and therefore does not ask for good-fortune,  He is determined to make his own destiny as he says “I myself am good-fortune”. Because he has complete faith in himself, he declares that “I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing”.

He intends to tell his readers that they too should not waste time in complaining about obstacles in their paths. Rather, they should proceed on their respective paths. According to the speaker, man should abandon all demands, grudges, bitter feelings and criticisms during the journey of life. Free of complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms, man should be satisfied with what he has. 

Stanza 3

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.

These lines emphasize the value of contentment or self-satisfaction. No man should invest his hopes in Fate. Instead of hoping for the stars of the constellations, man should contend himself with what the Earth offers him as he says, “The earth, that is sufficient”.

Whitman’s speaker believes that contentment is the key to make one’s journey on the open road easy. One should not become too ambitious. The desire for material gains will only slow down their journey. 

Stanza 4

(Still here I carry my old delicious burdens,
I carry them, men and women, I carry them with me wherever I go,
I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them,
I am fill’d with them, and I will fill them in return.)

The final lines of this section are enclosed in brackets. In these lines, the speaker admits that even he himself is not altogether free from life’s burdens. He says “ I carry my old delicious burdens”, referring to the grief and loss the speaker has experienced. He admits that though he is advising others to make their journeys without any feelings that weigh them down, he himself fails to follow it strictly.

Like most humans, it is his tendency to carry the burden of his past memories with him. He carries in his heart the memories of all places he has been to and all the people he has known. He believes that it is impossible for me to get rid of them because experiences are inseparable.