“O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
We come and go, but the land is always here. And the people who love it and understand it are the people who own it for a little while.
A story of settlers who come from Europe to settle Hanover, Nebraska. Of course this novel is concerned with buying property, and farming, but it closely looks at the relationships between people. It is told in batches of chapters in a certain time, then skips many years to focus on a new cluster of key events. The effect is that you are quickly moved through the lives of the main characters and get to know them from birth until death.
The book dives into the heads of the people who are ‘pioneers’ and ‘settling’ this land, especially why they have come to America? What are their motivations for being a successful farmer? Even what does success mean to each settler? It has a heartbreaking ending that brought tears to my eyes.
Cather writes so vividly about the land and farming, it is easy to tell she has lived in Nebraska. She writes very strong female characters, and actually they are the focus of the book other than a few of the men whose lives are intertwined with the lead females. This is the first book of 3 in the Great Plains trilogy. I have already added #2 and #3 to my To Read pile.
I’m always fascinated by book titles, their meanings, and origins. This title is based on Walt Whitman’s poem, ““Pioneers! O Pioneers!””
Come my tan-faced children,
Follow well in order, get your weapons ready, Have you your pistols? have you your sharp-edged axes? Pioneers! O pioneers!
For we cannot tarry here, We must march my darlings, we must bear the brunt of danger, We the youthful sinewy races, all the rest on us depend, Pioneers! O pioneers!
O you youths, Western youths, So impatient, full of action, full of manly pride and friendship, Plain I see you Western youths, see you tramping with the foremost, Pioneers! O pioneers!
Have the elder races halted? Do they droop and end their lesson, wearied over there beyond the seas? We take up the task eternal, and the burden and the lesson, Pioneers! O pioneers!
All the past we leave behind, We debouch upon a newer mightier world, varied world, Fresh and strong the world we seize, world of labor and the march, Pioneers! O pioneers!
We detachments steady throwing, Down the edges, through the passes, up the mountains steep, Conquering, holding, daring, venturing as we go the unknown ways, Pioneers! O pioneers!
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!
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!
From Nebraska, from Arkansas, Central inland race are we, from Missouri, with the continental blood intervein’d, All the hands of comrades clasping, all the Southern, all the Northern, Pioneers! O pioneers!
O resistless restless race! O beloved race in all! O my breast aches with tender love for all! O I mourn and yet exult, I am rapt with love for all, Pioneers! O pioneers!
Raise the mighty mother mistress, Waving high the delicate mistress, over all the starry mistress, (bend your heads all,) Raise the fang’d and warlike mistress, stern, impassive, weapon’d mistress, Pioneers! O pioneers!
See my children, resolute children, By those swarms upon our rear we must never yield or falter, Ages back in ghostly millions frowning there behind us urging, Pioneers! O pioneers!
On and on the compact ranks, With accessions ever waiting, with the places of the dead quickly fill’d, Through the battle, through defeat, moving yet and never stopping, Pioneers! O pioneers!
O to die advancing on! Are there some of us to droop and die? has the hour come? Then upon the march we fittest die, soon and sure the gap is fill’d. Pioneers! O pioneers!
All the pulses of the world, Falling in they beat for us, with the Western movement beat, Holding single or together, steady moving to the front, all for us, Pioneers! O pioneers!
Life’s involv’d and varied pageants, All the forms and shows, all the workmen at their work, All the seamen and the landsmen, all the masters with their slaves, Pioneers! O pioneers!
All the hapless silent lovers, All the prisoners in the prisons, all the righteous and the wicked, All the joyous, all the sorrowing, all the living, all the dying, Pioneers! O pioneers!
I too with my soul and body, We, a curious trio, picking, wandering on our way, Through these shores amid the shadows, with the apparitions pressing, Pioneers! O pioneers!
Lo, the darting bowling orb! Lo, the brother orbs around, all the clustering suns and planets, All the dazzling days, all the mystic nights with dreams, Pioneers! O pioneers!
These are of us, they are with us, All for primal needed work, while the followers there in embryo wait behind, We to-day’s procession heading, we the route for travel clearing, Pioneers! O pioneers!
O you daughters of the West! O you young and elder daughters! O you mothers and you wives! Never must you be divided, in our ranks you move united, Pioneers! O pioneers!
Minstrels latent on the prairies! (Shrouded bards of other lands, you may rest, you have done your work,) Soon I hear you coming warbling, soon you rise and tramp amid us, Pioneers! O pioneers!
Not for delectations sweet, Not the cushion and the slipper, not the peaceful and the studious, Not the riches safe and palling, not for us the tame enjoyment, Pioneers! O pioneers!
Do the feasters gluttonous feast? Do the corpulent sleepers sleep? have they lock’d and bolted doors? Still be ours the diet hard, and the blanket on the ground, Pioneers! O pioneers!
Has the night descended? Was the road of late so toilsome? did we stop discouraged nodding on our way? Yet a passing hour I yield you in your tracks to pause oblivious, Pioneers! O pioneers!
Till with sound of trumpet, Far, far off the daybreak call—hark! how loud and clear I hear it wind, Swift! to the head of the army!–swift! spring to your places, Pioneers! O pioneers!
Rating: ★★★★★ Book #38 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #Books #BookReview #WillaCather #USA #women #Nebraska #farming”,