What’s “public road”?

The earth expanding right hand and left hand,
The picture alive, every part in its best light,
The music falling in where it is wanted, and stopping where it is not wanted,
The cheerful voice of the public road—the gay fresh sentiment of the road.

O highway I travel! O public road! do you say to me, Do not leave me?
Do you say, Venture not? If you leave me, you are lost?
Do you say, I am already prepared—I am well-beaten and undenied—adhere to me?

O public road! I say back, I am not afraid to leave you—yet I love you;
You express me better than I can express myself;
You shall be more to me than my poem.

I think heroic deeds were all conceiv’d in the open air, and all great poems also;
I think I could stop here myself, and do miracles;
(My judgments, thoughts, I henceforth try by the open air, the road;)
I think whatever I shall meet on the road I shall like, and whoever beholds me shall like me;
I think whoever I see must be happy.

-Walt Whitman, from “Song of the Open Road.”

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3 responses to “What’s “public road”?

  1. Ruth, I am finding your journey (however one interprets that concept) a delight. That someone from New Zealand can be a part of the experience makes me wonder if Whitman’s public road has taken on a vitual meaning.

  2. Another Ruth Graham! Thanks for this!

  3. Two thoughts as I look at this again after more than a year. The first: the last line perfectly expresses the way I used to feel when we traveled west on vacation: if we were on vacation, then somehow the world was in a vacation mentality as well.
    The other thought: if the Heritage Foundation has their way, Whitman would have to do some editing – “O private road!”

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