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Pioneers! O Pioneers!

Pioneers! O Pioneers!


by Walt Whitman

Stanzas 11-12 Summary

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

Lines 41-44

Raise the mighty mother mistress,
Waving high the delicate mistress, over all the starry mistress, (bend your heads all,)
Raise the fang'd and warlike mistress, stern, impassive, weapon'd mistress,
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

  • Let's hear it for the ladies. This is a shout out to all those female pioneers, right? The mistresses?
  • Wait… something about "waving high" and "starry"… He's talking about the flag! The stars and stripes! Ah. This is not the lady-shout-out we've been looking for.
  • Raising and waving the flag is yet another image that makes us think of the pioneers like an army. We're starting to think that our speaker sees pioneering as the patriotic thing to do.
  • It's interesting that he calls the flag delicate as well as mighty. He definitely thinks it's worthy of respect. Quick, recite the Pledge of Allegiance!
  • However delicate it might be, it's also powerful and warlike. After all, these pioneers are also conquerors, and we guess the flag represents that, too.
  • Not that we could tell you where the fangs and weapons are on the flag. That 1850s flag must've been pretty cool.

Lines 45-48

See my children, resolute children,
By those swarms upon our rear we must never yield or falter,
Ages back in ghostly millions frowning there behind us urging,
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

  • Our speaker calls to mind the ghosts of pioneers past. And they're more than a little pushy.
  • In the first line, he seems to refer to children who pioneer.
  • But maybe he's simply referring to us all as his children (like he did in the first line of the poem).
  • Either way, he pretty quickly turns our focus to the ghosts of all those pioneers past—the ones urging those children on. 
  • This image depicts the past pioneers as a swarm of ghosts behind them, pushing them forward, pushing them to never yield, never falter. They don't seem content with the progress the current pioneers are making. Why else would they be frowning?
  • He may have brought up children at the beginning of the stanza since they'll be the future pioneers, and he's concerned with them carrying on the pioneer tradition, generation after generation.
  • We wonder what our speaker would make of today's world, where there just doesn't seem to be anywhere left to pioneer (at least not in the same way). 

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