The Bridge by Shel Silverstein

In ‘The Bridge’ Silverstein explores themes of magic, imagination, and storytelling. The latter is seen through the speaker who is playing the role of storyteller, pulling the reader or intended listener into the text and helping them imagine other worlds. These worlds are full of magic. It seems like, without Silverstein writing it down specifically, that with this bridge one can live in any world they choose and experience anything they can imagine. The tone is lighthearted and engaged, allowing the poet to create a whimsical and entrancing mood.


Summary of The Bridge

‘The Bridge’ by Shel Silverstein is a lighthearted, imaginative poem that depicts the power of writing, reading, and imagination. 

The poem asks the reader to “walk” along beside the speaker. To cast their mind over the bridge and enter into the worlds they are so interested in. There, they will see Arabs and unicorns and magical forests. It will be a grand adventure, but they have to do some work to get there. The “bridge’ that is created through the written word and storytellers can only get you so far. “You” as an individual with your own imagination have to do the last bit of work at the end. 

You  can read the full poem here.


Structure of The Bridge 

‘The Bridge’ by Shel Silverstein is an eight-line poem that is contained within one stanza of text. The lines follow a simple rhyme scheme of ABAB ACAC and are all very similar in length. Silverstein structured the majority of them to contained ten syllables. There are also examples of half-rhyme in the poem. Half-rhyme, also known as slant or partial rhyme, is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. 

This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line or multiple lines of verse. For example, “see” and “gypsy” in lines two and three and “you” and “through” in lines one and three. 

This piece was aimed at a younger audience, therefore the sing-song-like rhythm of the lines is perfect. It is used to make the lines more pleasing to read as well as listen to. It also should help keep a child’s attention for longer. He also achieves this through the humorous nature of the content. The events of the poem should be relatable to the child hearing or reading it. 


Poetic Techniques in The Bridge 

Silverstein makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘The Bridge’. These include alliteration, enjambment, and allusion. The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “twisting trails” and “wondrous worlds” in the sixth line. 

An allusion is an expression that’s meant to call something specific to mind without directly stating it. In the case of ‘The Bridge,’ the speaker uses the bridge as a metaphor to allude to the possibilities of one’s own imagination. The bridge takes “you” to one spot, but from there, like the last line says, “you’ll have to take” the last few steps alone. 

Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. 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. 


Analysis of The Bridge 

Lines 1-4

In the first lines of ‘The Bridge,’ the speaker describes the bridge. This description is reused as a refrain in the seventh line. He states that the bridge can be useful but it’s only going to take “you,” the young, intended listener of the poem, so far. It can only do so much for you. If you do make use of it you’re going to end up in “those mysterious lands you long to see”. You will meet people and encounter freedom that doesn’t exist on the other side.

The imagery in this poem is whimsical and imaginative. The speaker describes a moonlit forest where “unicorns run free.” From just these first lines it becomes clear that this bridge is a very special device. It is something that allows one’s imagination a boost. It could be considered as a metaphor for storytelling, writing or reading. The extra bit you need at the end when the bridge runs out, that’s where you’re on your own.


Lines 5-8 

In the next four lines of ‘The Bridge,’ the speaker continues on, exploring the same themes. He asks the listener, who is definitely interested in travelling over the bridge, to “walk awhile with” him. If they do so they will be able to listen to his stories of all the “wondrous worlds” he has known. They will travel through the pages of a book, entranced and amazed by the stories that reside there. But, that will only take” you halfway there”. If “you” want to get to the other side of the bridge, fully into another world you will have to do the last bit of work yourself. 

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