Southbound on the Freeway Summary


Lines 1–2
This poem starts with the literary conceit, or premise, that an alien life form has come from another planet and observed life on earth. The poem is clear about not taking itself too seriously. First, the alien is referred to with the friendly word “tourist,” softening any notion of it being a hostile invader and implying a guest/host relationship. The name “Orbitville” is light, somewhat humorous: it implies small-town America, where names like Kentville, Greenville and Roseville are common. The first half of the name is pointedly un-exotic, using a word that shows an almost childish grasp of the reaches of outer space. When this poem was published, in 1963, the United States and Soviet Union space programs had put humans into earth’s orbit, and the word would have been in the news daily. The use of the name “Orbitville” sets a light, anti-intellectual, child-like tone. Similarly, the action of parking “in the air” implies that this poem is being told by someone with a weak imagination, who borrows from popular science fiction rather than establishing an internal reality within the poem. For young readers this speaker is friendly and non-challenging; more sophisticated readers are amused by the poem’s sense of whimsy.

Line 3
Line 3 refers to the earth as a “star.” A space traveller would, if it knew anything, know the difference between a star and a planet. In having the visitor describe it this way, the author accomplishes several things. The visitor’s naivete is established, making the confusion it is to feel in the coming stanzas more plausible. Also, the word “star” reminds most readers of wonder, of mystery. The emotional associations a reader has with a word constitute the word’s “connotation.”

Line 4
In Line 4, the theme of technology is introduced. It is not clear at this point in the poem what the visitor is seeing, or if it is actually Earth that is being visited. From the description given here, the reader can only tell that the visitor mistakenly uses the word “creature,” which indicates a life form, to talk about something that has been manufactured.

Lines 5–6
“Guts” is a surprisingly informal word for the visitor to use in describing the “creature’s” internal organs, but Swenson’s purpose becomes clear in the last line of the poem, where the common association of “guts” with “courage” is brought into play. In Line 6, the visitor states the obvious: anything seen within could be considered guts.

Lines 7–10
It is in this part of the poem that it first becomes clear that the visitor is talking about an automobile: only wheels are round and roll where feet would be, and the description previously given, added to the...

(The entire section is 1150 words.)