Walt Whitman's "Song of the Open Road," like his famous "Song of Myself," is long and divided into sections. Section 1, of course, is the opening of the poem and sets the tone and themes for the poem as a whole. To critically analyze the first section, let us go through each stanza in turn.
The first stanza begins,
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 (1–3).
Here, the speaker describes how he feels as he sets out on the open road. He is "light-hearted, "healthy, [and] free." He feels this way because he can go "wherever [he] choose[s]." The freedom the road gives him goes hand in hand with the speaker's cheerful and open-minded attitude.
The second stanza reads,
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 (4–7).
In these lines, the speaker describes how he will approach life once he has set out on the open road. He says he will not ask for "good-fortune" because he embodies that wish himself. He will no longer procrastinate or complain. He will focus solely on the open road and will be "content" with that alone. He "need[s] nothing" more.
In the third stanza, the speaker writes,
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 (8–11).
He views the world around him as perfect. He will appreciate it and ask no more of it than it gives. It is "sufficient." He takes the world on its own terms, and he asks the world to take him on his own terms, as well.
Finally, the speaker concludes section 1 by saying,
(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) (12–15).
This stanza is enclosed in parentheses, so its style indicates a shift in the poem. The idea found therein also indicates a shift in theme. The speaker says he does continue to carry his "old delicious burdens." This phrase is oxymoronic because burdens are usually troublesome and not "delicious." He explains that his burdens are "men and women." He describes himmself as "fill'd with them." This is an idea similar to what we see in "Song of Myself," in which Whitman proclaims that he is part of all of humanity and it is, in turn, all part of him. He carries the traits and concerns of the people with him. This is why many critics consider Whitman the quintessential American poet.
Overall, the poem is nontraditional in its style. There is no rhyme scheme or set meter. There is no set stanza structure. Most of the four stanzas have four lines each, but the first has only three. Whitman is known for his idiosyncratic style, and this poem is yet another example of his preference for free verse
. This style, of course, matches perfectly with Whitman's central themes and concerns.