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Pioneers! O Pioneers!

Pioneers! O Pioneers!


by Walt Whitman

Stanzas 1-2 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 1-4

Come my tan-faced children,
Follow well in order, get your weapons ready,
Have you your pistols? have you your sharp-edged axes?
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

  • Our speaker is beckoning, calling forth the pioneers. 
  • He seems pretty friendly with then, even calling them his children. 
  • When he describes them as "tan-faced," that seems to tell us that these people spend a lot of time outside, in the sun, in contact with the elements. They don't spend all day peering at computer screens, that's for sure.
  • Also, it sounds like he's talking to us. Hey, does that mean we're pioneers? Awesome. 
  • Say, you don't happen to have an extra pistol and axe, do you? We… left ours at home. Yeah, at home. But we totally have pioneer pistols and axes.
  • What do we need pistols and axes for, anyway? 
  • Right away, in this first stanza, we're getting a little warning that there will be danger ahead. And there will be work to do. Possibly messy work.

Lines 5-8

For we cannot tarry here,
We must march my darlings, we must bear the brunt of danger,
We the youthful sinewy races, all the rest on us depend,
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

  • Our speaker tells us that we pioneers can't stay anywhere long (otherwise we'd be settlers, and how boring would that be?). We have to keep moving, keep blazing new trails.
  • There is also a sense of urgency and purpose. We "must" keep going. There are others depending on us and our work. 
  • Notice that he says "we." So not only is he talking like we're among the pioneers, but he includes himself too. We're all together in this, and boy, do we love being called sinewy.
  • And what's that word "races" doing in here? Race is one of those words that was used a lot more broadly (and frequently) back in the day. He's not using it the way we usually do, to mean black, white, etc. Instead, he seems to be talking about a sort of pioneer type. He's talking about his ideal kind of man: young, sinewy, courageous. 
  • We feel like we've heard that last line somewhere before…
  • Oh, yeah: in the title and at the end of the last stanza. "Pioneers! O Pioneers" is becoming a refrain. Prepare yourself for more.

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