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Pioneers! O Pioneers!

Pioneers! O Pioneers!


by Walt Whitman

Stanzas 7-8 Summary

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

Lines 25-28

We primeval forests felling,
We the rivers stemming, vexing we and piercing deep the mines within,
We the surface broad surveying, we the virgin soil upheaving,
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

  • Our speaker goes on to describe the pioneers cutting down forests, damming rivers, digging mines, churning up the soil.
  • This doesn't sound quite as lovely now that we don't really have any primeval forests left in the country. But, at the time, we figure Americans could hardly imagine a limit to the wilderness. 
  • It was a marvel to transform the inhospitable country into something more usable by people.
  • At least, our speaker seems to rejoice in these acts.
  • And the violence of that word "piercing" again reminds of the battle imagery we've already encountered. 
  • Of course, combined with the term "virgin soil," it's also a sexual image. 
  • This raises an interesting point. We might say that our speaker sees this struggle between man and nature as a kind of union, a creative (or procreative) act. 
  • In that case, it's not necessarily Man v. Nature, but rather Man + Nature. And they should get a room.

Lines 29-32

Colorado men are we,
From the peaks gigantic, from the great sierras and the high plateaus,
From the mine and from the gully, from the hunting trail we come,
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

  • He tells us that pioneers are Colorado men, who come from the mountain ranges, from the mines and trails. In other words, we pioneers are kicking butt and taking names—of the wilderness sort.
  • Of course we also have to point out that he's naming a state here; he's giving us an actual geographical location. 
  • Do all pioneers come from Colorado? Or does he just love Colorado? Probably the latter. After all, we think Whitman would consider himself a pioneer, and he certainly wasn't from the Rocky Mountain State. He probably just likes it there because it's got so many stinkin' mountains, ripe for mining.
  • When he mentions the mine and trail, we can't help but notice that these are some of the first human changes to the landscape. 
  • It seems that a big part of what defines Colorado is the marks people have carved into the natural world there. That's true pioneering.

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