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Pioneers! O Pioneers!

Pioneers! O Pioneers!


by Walt Whitman

Stanzas 3-4 Summary

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

Lines 9-12

O you youths, Western youths,
So impatient, full of action, full of manly pride and friendship,
Plain I see you Western youths, see you tramping with the foremost,
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

  • Now our speaker describes the young pioneers as full of pride and friendship. He also calls them "Western youths," which we guess just means that they are part of the Western world. And, you know, they're young.
  • It sounds like he's still laying out his ideal: a people full of action, manly and proud, who value friendship. And who aren't too old to get around.
  • Tramp is a word that we sometimes don't think of in a very positive way, but when our speaker talks of "tramping," we can tell it's a positive thing. The way he says it, tramping is a bold, exciting thing to do. It's part of leading the way, setting out into the unknown.

Lines 13-16

Have the elder races halted?
Do they droop and end their lesson, wearied over there beyond the seas?
We take up the task eternal, and the burden and the lesson,
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

  • Our speaker thinks America is the new home of action and liveliness, while the old world is, well, old and weary. In short, young = good, old = blech.
  • Elder races? Our best guess is that he's talking about the Old World, those Europeans (and all the older civilizations of the West) out there across the Atlantic. In other words, where many Americans (except for Native Americans) came from. 
  • That might be another reason for calling the pioneers "Western youths," to compare them with the Western elders across the ocean.
  • But what about this "task eternal," this "burden" and "lesson"? We're guessing that our speaker feels that pioneering and breaking new ground is our highest calling, a kind of task or duty. 
  • Using the word "burden" reminds us also of the dangers and hardships he keeps reminding us of (although the way he brings them up makes them not sound so bad). Keep your pistols handy.
  • And the word "lesson" suggests we might learn a lot from this pioneering. Some geography, at least, right?

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