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Pioneers! O Pioneers!

Pioneers! O Pioneers!


by Walt Whitman

Stanzas 19-20 Summary

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

Lines 73-76

Lo, the darting bowling orb!
Lo, the brother orbs around, all the clustering suns and planets,
All the dazzling days, all the mystic nights with dreams,
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

  • Wait. What? "Darting bowling orb"? Seriously, Walt?
  • We know, it's more than a strange image. It's borderline incomprehensible.
  • But luckily he makes it clearer when he mentions the "clustering suns and planets." He's talking about the sun and the planets and stars. He's talking about day and night. 
  • There's an ecstatic quality to this, don't you think? This isn't any sort of particular logical progression. We mean, maybe we could imagine that pioneers guide themselves by the sun and stars, but at this point, he just seems to be shouting about awesome stuff. 
  • Are those orbs the apparitions from the previous stanza? Maybe. In any case, these lines definitely fit in with the previous stanza, because they're praising the mystical nature of life in this world. 
  • Also perhaps it's a way of saying that even the heavens, the sky and its celestial bodies, are part of this unity he's been talking about. This guy doesn't just want people in on the fun—he wants the whole cosmos pioneering.
  • See? We told you he was inclusive.

Lines 77-80

These are of us, they are with us,
All for primal needed work, while the followers there in embryo wait behind,
We to-day's procession heading, we the route for travel clearing,
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

  • Yup, this seems to confirm what we were saying about that previous stanza. "These are of us" means that all these things—even celestial orbs—are connected to us little folks down on the ground. 
  • Again he stresses the sense of urgency and necessity he feels about this pioneer work he describes earlier in the poem. The work is "primal" (basic, essential) and "needed."
  • He also looks ahead to the future in this stanza—to those eventual pioneers who are now no more than twinkles in their parents' eyes (or embryos in their mothers' wombs). 
  • Pioneers set out to lay claim to new territory, to make it available for future generations, so it makes sense that they're a forward-thinking folk.
  • With this wide scope of the last several stanzas, we feel like our speaker is taking the cosmic view of human affairs. This isn't just about building mines and trading posts.
  • It's about fulfilling destiny. Manifest destiny, to be exact.

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