Pioneers! O Pioneers!
What’s Up With the Title?
Gee. We wonder what this poem's about.
We're kidding. Of course. The title tells us right off the bat—this one's about pioneers. And in case you didn't get the hint, Whitman tacks on an "O Pioneers!" just to really hammer it home.
But what kind of pioneers are we talking here? These days, we think of pioneers as inventors and entrepreneurs. You know, those guys and gals that invent awesome gadgets that make our lives easier and way more fun.
But this poem was published in 1865, so that can't be what Whitman's talking about. So who was doing all the pioneering in 1865? All those folks headed west to fulfill what they saw as this country's Manifest Destiny, to make America stretch from sea to shining sea. It was all about winning the West.
And that was no picnic. Whatever you think about how the west was won (and it's a mighty controversial subject), it was definitely hard-won. In Whitman's eyes, these pioneers were trailblazers, who braved danger to push on forward in the grand human tradition. No wonder he's got two exclamation points in the title alone.
And not only is the title, well, the title, but it also repeats throughout the poem at the end of every stanza. You had better have a high tolerance for repetition, Shmoopers. "Pioneers! O Pioneers!" becomes a refrain, which helps the poem build intensity (more on this in the "Form and Meter" section.) The line itself is rhapsodic (meaning kind of emotional and extravagant). After all, it's got exclamation points! It kind of sums up the way our speaker is overflowing with admiration and affection for these pioneers.