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Pioneers! O Pioneers!

Pioneers! O Pioneers!


by Walt Whitman

Stanzas 17-18 Summary

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

Lines 65-68

All the hapless silent lovers,
All the prisoners in the prisons, all the righteous and the wicked,
All the joyous, all the sorrowing, all the living, all the dying,
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

  • Our speaker goes on listing very different kinds of people, in very different kinds of situations. 
  • But still, there's a strong sense of unity. Saints, sinners, lovers, prisoners—they're all in this pioneering business together. They're all in the march. 
  • There's also a way that our speaker makes all these different people sound equal. At least linguistically, the masters and slaves, the righteous and the wicked are on the same level. And our speaker doesn't seem to make any moral or other distinction between them. They seem all the same before him—part of the masses headed West. 
  • If we weren't sure before, we are now. Our speaker is one majorly inclusive guy. He wants everybody involved in this business. After all, if all the forms and pulses of the world are included, that's got to include all the people, too, right? 
  • Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean that everyone is among the pioneers. Maybe most people are the "all the rest" that depend on the pioneers (from line 7). But everyone seems to be involved in some way in this force that urges the pioneers forward.

Lines 69-72

I too with my soul and body,
We, a curious trio, picking, wandering on our way,
Through these shores amid the shadows, with the apparitions pressing,
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

  • I! There's an I! For the first time, we get to truly meet the speaker. 
  • And what do we learn about him? Well, that he's just like everybody else. 
  • In fact, our speaker doesn't seem to be much of an individual at all. Instead, he's a trio, composed of an 'I' and its soul and body. 
  • So even individuals are like little groups, it seems. Multiple things united as one.
  • Everything about this stanza is vaguely mysterious. A person has this strange three-part nature. The world is made up of shadows and apparitions. What's going on, exactly?
  • We think our speaker might be saying something like this: "Even I, wandering through this strange, mysterious world, am part of this unity, part of the forms and pulsings of the world."

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