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Pioneers! O Pioneers!

Pioneers! O Pioneers!

by Walt Whitman

Sacrifice Theme

In "Pioneers! O Pioneers!," a lot of what our speaker praises about these pioneers seems to be the way they face the hardships of charting new territory. Their sacrifice defines them. It sets them apart from the corpulent sleepers and feasters, and the drooping elders of the old world—the too-comfy folks. The safety and the comfort these pioneers give up makes room for them to take on the ruggedness of a newer, fresher world.

Questions About Sacrifice

  1. How does death fit into our speaker's conception of these pioneers? Is a willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice an essential part of being a pioneer?
  2. In the second stanza, our speaker says, "We must march my darlings, we must bear the brunt of danger." Why do you think he says "must"? What is there about their task and their sacrifice that our speaker feels is so necessary? 
  3. Our speaker clearly prefers sleeping on the hard ground and felling trees to sleeping in a comfy bed behind locked doors. But isn't there a contradiction, in that all the work pioneers do (blazing trails, felling forests, etc.) lays the groundwork for civilization to set up shop, with all its comforts?

Chew on This

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

This poem tells us that material comforts make you weak, and our speaker suggests these comforts must be sacrificed in order to be a true American.

The way that this poem emphasizes unity and a collective pioneer spirit makes the hardship of individual sacrifice not seem as bad.

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