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Pioneers! O Pioneers!

Pioneers! O Pioneers!


by Walt Whitman

Pioneers! O Pioneers! Theme of Visions of America

In "Pioneers! O Pioneers!" America is awesome—and we mean that in the truest sense of the word. New territories to explore, new mountains to climb, new mines to dig, new lands to conquer. All this newness is what makes America, according to our speaker, so great. That, and the pioneering spirit of its inhabitants, who are always pushing westward.

Questions About Visions of America

  1. Early in the poem, our speaker suggests that in America "we take up the task eternal, and the burden and the lesson" (line 15). What is this task, this burden and lesson? 
  2. Then in the stanza 22, our speaker says "(Shrouded bards of other lands, you may rest, you have done your work,)", suggesting that the rest of the world has done its work and should leave things to America. What makes America (in our speaker's mind) different from the rest of the world and particularly suited to artistic creation? Do you agree or disagree with his opinion?
  3. When our speaker lists different states, and when he speaks of masters and slaves, seaman and landsman, what effect does this have? Is he celebrating the diversity of the country? Is there a unity in that diversity? Or is he missing the point?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Our speaker primarily admires America because it is a country in the process of being created, and its identity is still malleable and expanding. In a way what he's really praising is its potential, the fact that it has such capacity to become more and greater than it is.

Although our speaker uses America as his landscape, he is really only praising the creation and newness that pioneers represent. This poem could take place anywhere there are people venturing into new territory.

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