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Leaves of Grass | Study Guide

Walt Whitman

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Leaves of Grass | Pioneers! O Pioneers! | Summary

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Summary

Whitman's speaker calls his fellow pioneers to march on where "elder races halted." They will "take up the task eternal" and set forth to seize a new world. Through mountain passes, over rivers, via hunting trails, they will continue, with love in their hearts for their fellows, and under the flag that unites them. Some may fall in battle, but the front moves forward steadily. They fight for the ages, and for the unborn children that follow. They do not do it for the "cushion and the slipper" but for the glory of expansion into uncharted territory.

Analysis

As an innovator himself, Whitman admired pioneers, and the pioneers in this poem do not only refer to the pioneers who went west across America, but anyone who is willing to join him in leaving the past behind to create a "newer mightier world, varied world."

Whitman's speaker fancies himself the fearless leader of these pioneers, and Whitman begins his poem by calling out, "Come my tan-faced children, Follow well in order." He uses imagery of battle such as "sharp-edged axes" and "sound of trumpet" and "to the head of the army!" to compare the way bringing about innovation is like waging a war against tradition and established institutions. By repeating the inclusive "we," Whitman assures America and he and the people are blazing a trail together, "daring, venturing as we go the unknown ways." And they are doing it for America, under the raised American flag, which Whitman personifies by calling it a "mighty mother mistress," "starry mistress," and "fang'd and warlike mistress."

The form of the poem is similarly battle-like. Whitman fashions loose quatrains (stanzas of four lines) that always end with the battle cry refrain, "Pioneers! O Pioneers!" This repetition creates a rhythm not unlike a battle march.

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