‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’ was published in 1990 and tells the story of a young person only referred to in the second person, as “you”. The tone is upbeat and optimistic throughout the poem, even when the speaker is discussing the inevitable failures one will face. This poem creates an inspiring and uplifting mood that by the end of the poem should have the reader convinced that they can do anything they want to do and succeed, eventually.
Throughout the exciting and humorous lines of ‘Oh the Places You’ll Go,’ the speaker explores the future ups and downs, but mostly ups, of a listener’s life. They have just entered into a new period where success seems assured, and it is! But that doesn’t mean there won’t be failures too. The speaker goes back and forth, juxtaposing success against failure and joy against depression. These things are all a part of life and one must be ready to accept that fact. The poem ends happily though with the speaker expressing his belief that “you” will move mountains.
You can read the full poem here.
‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’ by Dr. Seuss is a thirty-three stanza poem that is divided into uneven sets of lines. These range in length from one single line up to thirteen, and everything in between. There is no single pattern of rhyme that spans the length of this poem, but there is a great deal of rhyme throughout. For example, “day” and “away” in lines two and four of the first stanza and “know” and “go” in lines five and six of the second stanza.
In this poem there are examples of lines written entirely with capitalized letters, to make them stand out and give them greater emphasis and there are others that use nonsense words made up by Seuss for this poem. Many of these are compound words, connecting two things together in a new way to make a point or create a rhyme.
Dr. Seuss makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go’. These include, but are not limited to, alliteration, enjambment, juxtaposition, and metaphor. The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. This technique is present in every stanza of the poem. It is used to increase the rhythm of the lines, something that makes them more pleasurable to read, especially out loud. For example, “prickle-ly perch” in stanza thirteen and “full of feet” in stanza three.
Enjambment is another technique that Suess used frequently in his poems. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For instance, the transitions between lines one, two, and three, of stanza twelve.
The successes and failures of life compared in ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’ Although they are not named, it is clear that they are unpleasant on one end and joyful on the others. The comparison is known as juxtaposition. This is when two contrasting things are placed near one another in order to emphasize that contrast. A poet usually does this in order to emphasize a larger theme of their text or make an important point about the differences between these two things.
Metaphors also occur throughout the poem. They are comparisons between two unlike things that do not use “like” or “as”. When using this technique a poet is saying that one thing is another thing, they aren’t just similar. There is a wonderful passage in the middle of the poem that uses the metaphor of a “Waiting Place” to describe a time in one’s life in which decisions are seemingly impossible to make.
Stanza One and Two
In the first two stanzas of ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’ the speaker begins by congratulating “you”o n your accomplishments. It’s time to move on to a new life, a new place, a new beginning. The vagueness of these initial lines are part of the appeal of this poem. Nowadays, the book is often given as a gift to those graduating high school or college, something to mark a transitional period during which one embarks on a new journey.
In both of these stanzas and many more throughout the poem, Seuss uses the technique known as anaphora. It is seen through the repetition of “You’re off” and then “You” at the beginning of multiple lines. In fact, the word “you” is repeated twelve times in just these first two stanzas. This is a technique that is common to all of Dr. Seuss’s books and poems.
Stanzas Three and Four
In the next two stanzas of ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’, the speaker alludes to all the possibilities that “you” have in front of you. You can look around, see what’s what, and decide where it is you want to go. There will be interesting places to visit and uninteresting ones and now you have the freedom to choose, he says. Seuss references “shoes full of feet” again in the third line of the third stanza, as well as a head “full of brains”.
Stanzas Five, Six, and Seven
After encouraging the listener to “head out of town” if the city is uninteresting, Seuss uses repetition to describe that new space as “open”. This is a good word to use to describe this entire poem, it is alluding to the “open” nature of this new life that’s ahead for the listener.
Another common feature of Seuss’s poems is the use of nonsense or made-up words like “footsy” in the sixth stanza. With the context, it becomes clear that this word is used to refer to someone’s ability to think on their feet and make good choices in the moment.
The next lines ask that “you” remember that things will eventually “start happening” for you “too”. It might not happen right away, but eventually, it will.
Stanza Eight, Nine and Ten
The eighth stanza of ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’ provides the reader with their first encounter with a line in all caps. The speaker shouts out, “OH! / THE PLACES YOU’LL GO!” in this stanza. There are clearly joy and excitement in these lines. Anaphora is used again with the repetition of “You’ll” in the ninth stanza. Here, Seuss uses another technique known as accumulation to bring together words that relate to reaching a great height and flying high.
The perfect rhymes in these lines make the speaker’s words sound more powerful and meaningful. They ring true and definitive.
Stanzas Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen
The next stanzas are structured differently, as a reader be expecting by now. The eleventh is only two lines long and rhymes perfectly with “don’t” and “won’t”. This is known as a couplet. These two lines respond to the previous over the top, excited, and inspiring words of prose for “you”. There are times, these lines allude to when things aren’t going to be so easy. There will be, as the next stanza says, “Bang-ups” and “hang-ups” that get in your way of success.
Enjambment is very prevalent in these lines. Specifically in all the transitions between the lines of stanza twelve.
The thirteenth stanza has a great example of a coined word. The phrase “prickle-ly perch” is used in the second line. It is representing something that traps you, keeps you from moving on while your friends do.
Stanzas Fourteen and Fifteen
The next two stanzas of ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’ help in predicting a likely future. Yes, the speaker is saying, you will sometimes fail and fall and hurt yourself. You’ll be in a “Slump,” which Seuss capitalized, and then you’ll have to “un-slump” yourself. The word “Slump” is used as though it is a location one can physically be present in. A reader should keep a lookout for all the examples of capitalized words in this poem and how they influence one’s understanding of them.
Stanzas Sixteen and Seventeen
The sixteenth stanza is a metaphor for losing one’s way in life, of being unsure where to go when things don’t turn out the way you expected them to. The “streets” are dark and “not marked”. It’s unclear where one should turn. It might lead you to question your decision making, past and present, and then get caught up in self-doubt. Every decision can seem monumental in these moments.
The last line of the seventeenth stanza contains examples of alliteration with the repetition of words starting with “m”.
Stanzas Eighteen and Nineteen
The eighteenth stanza of ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’ introduces the “Waiting Place”. This is somewhere that you definitely do not want to be. It is where, as the nineteenth stanza says, everyone is just waiting. No one is going anywhere, on the train or the bus. These lines are alluding to the habits of a set of people, perhaps who also doubt themselves, who just wait for something to happen to them. The imagery in these lines is very clear, from the absurd to the believable.
Stanzas Twenty and Twenty-One
“NO!” the speaker explains in the twenty-first line, this kind of life is not for “you”. You, he says, are not one of the waiting people. You are not going to get stuff “waiting for the wind to fly a kite” or waiting for an opportunity to find you and change your life. It is up to you to escape and find the bright places for yourself.
Stanzas Twenty-Two and Twenty-Three
Th speaker knows that you, who have such a promising future, are surely going to escape from this place. There are so many other wonderful and more productive places to go to. The “bright places” are calling where “you’ll ride high!” The speaker’s confidence shows through in these lines, he’s certain of his prediction that “you” are going to do great things. These lines are inspiring, as they are meant to be. The mood in ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’ is optimistic and energetic and the tone determined and authoritative. But, as always, playful.
Stanzas Twenty-Four through Twenty-Seven
Using alliteration, enjambment, more coined nonsense words, and allusions to success, the poet continues into the next few stanzas. In these lines, he expresses his speaker’s belief that “you” will be “famous as famous can be” and everyone will want you “win on TV”. There is a sudden transition back to the reality check that happened in the previous stanzas. The speaker wants to make sure that you know that sometimes you won’t win on the TV and everyone will see you lose.
You’ll be alone and everyone will be playing against you. This is a technique known as juxtaposition. The poet is placing two unlike things next to one another so that one might emphasize the other. Losing is made more poignant by the exciting discussion about winning in the previous lines.
Stanzas Twenty-Eight and Twenty-Nine
‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’ is beginning to come to an end in these stanzas. He uses the weather as a metaphor in these lines to depict the terrible times that are surely ahead, or at least the very difficult ones. “You” will have to travel through bad weather, or face general hardships, in your quest for happiness and success. This is expanded in the next stanza with an image of “you” hiking through the wilderness, soaking wet and fearful of the “Hakken-Kraks” howling.
Stanzas Thirty and Thirty-One
The metaphor is continued into the next lines with additional references to hiking and meeting strange creatures along the way. There will be “birds” to see and dangerous steps to navigate. Seuss makes sure to always lighten the mood when the imagery starts to get a little dark or a bit too series with phrases like “you will succeed… / 98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed”.
Stanzas Thirty-Two and Thirty-Three
At the end of ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’ the speaker uses another line that is in all caps. In order to give it greater emphasis and make it stand out, all the letters are capitalized and the word ends with an exclamation. Names are accumulated in the last lines, building up so that a reader infers that this poem is in reference to an endless number of people, to everyone in fact.