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Pioneers! O Pioneers!

Pioneers! O Pioneers!

by Walt Whitman

Man and the Natural World Theme

The pioneers in "Pioneers! O Pioneers!" are some seriously outdoorsy folk. Imagine flannels, work boots, and hats. Definitely hats. They don't sit around in plush chairs in fancy towns. No! They sleep on the hard ground and march across mountains and passes; they seize hold of and explore the world. This exploration also involves conquering parts of nature: felling trees, digging mines and making roads. They're not afraid to get dirty, and get the job done.

Questions About Man and the Natural World

  1. Is the act of pioneering in this poem more an act of discovery or an act of creation? Do the pioneers uncover new things and experiences, or do they create them through their interactions with the natural world?
  2. What is it about pushing out into the wilderness that so captivates and excites our speaker? 
  3. Do you think our speaker would feel the same affection for contemporary outdoorsmen? And would they have to go somewhere extreme to earn his respect, or would a tramp through the closest national park do the trick?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The relationship between the pioneers and the natural world is primarily antagonistic. Nature's the enemy, and it must be conquered.

Although our speaker rejoices in the felling of forests and digging of mines, he clearly appreciates wilderness. In fact, he seems to dislike places that are too civilized precisely because they don't provide the opportunity to encounter the wildness and beauty of the natural world.

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