Walt Whitman, Poet of ... Space Exploration

Behold: "Pioneers! O Pioneers!" narrates the final frontier.

In 1865, as part of an updated edition of Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman published an ode to the explorers of America's Western expansion. "Pioneers! O Pioneers" was a typically Whitmanesque tribute to exploration, to progress, to the people who, risking themselves, "take up the task eternal, and the burden, and the lesson."

Now, via the pioneering platform that is YouTube, the poem has been repurposed -- as an ode to the contemporary incarnations of Whitman's pioneers. And as an ode to the space on which they've trained their gazes. As its creator notes, "This video was conceived before the passing of Neil Armstrong, but it seems a fitting tribute to his legacy as the first human pioneer to set foot on another world."

The video, yes, is also incredibly cheesy. Just as, read with modern minds, Whitman's poem may be. But there's something wonderfully and appropriately poetic about it, too. Whitman in a new context puts space in a new context. The video's fusion of past and present, of American dreams and global ones, is a reminder that as new and as epic and perhaps as final a frontier as space may be, it's also the simplest thing in the world and beyond it: the next step. History will always have its pioneers, the poet's repurposed words suggest -- people driven to travel and travel and travel some more until finally their steps turn into leaps.

Presented by

Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic.

Why Principals Matter

Nadia Lopez didn't think anybody cared about her middle school. Then Humans of New York told her story to the Internet—and everything changed.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A History of Contraception

In the 16th century, men used linen condoms laced shut with ribbons.

Video

'A Music That Has No End'

In Spain, a flamenco guitarist hustles to make a modest living.

Video

What Fifty Shades Left Out

A straightforward guide to BDSM

More in Technology

Just In