The Pioneer

A poem by James Russell Lowell

What man would live coffined with brick and stone,
Imprisoned from the healing touch of air,
And cramped with selfish landmarks everywhere,
When all before him stretches, furrowless and lone,
The unmapped prairie none can fence or own?

What man would read and read the self-same faces,
And, like the marbles which the windmill grinds,
Rub smooth forever with the same smooth minds,
This year retracing last year's, every year's, dull traces,
When there are woods and unpenfolded spaces?

What man o'er one old thought would pore and pore,
Shut like a book between its covers thin
For every fool to leave his dog's ears in,
When solitude is his, and God forevermore,
Just for the opening of a paltry door?

What man would watch life's oozy element
Creep Letheward forever, when he might
Down some great river drift beyond men's sight,
To where the undethroned forest's royal tent
Broods with its hush o'er half a continent?

What man with men would push and altercate,
Piecing out crooked means to crooked ends,
When he can have the skies and woods for friends,
Snatch back the rudder of his undismantled fate,
And in himself be ruler, church, and state?

Cast leaves and feathers rot in last year's nest,
The wing├Ęd brood, flown thence, new dwellings plan;
The serf of his own Past is not a man;
To change and change is life, to move and never rest;--
Not what we are, but what we hope, is best.

The wild, free woods make no man halt or blind;
Cities rob men of eyes and hands and feet,
Patching one whole of many incomplete;
The general preys upon the individual mind,
And each alone is helpless as the wind.

Each man is some man's servant; every soul
Is by some other's presence quite discrowned;
Each owes the next through all the imperfect round,
Yet not with mutual help; each man is his own goal,
And the whole earth must stop to pay him toll.

Here, life the undiminished man demands;
New faculties stretch out to meet new wants;
What Nature asks, that Nature also grants;
Here man is lord, not drudge, of eyes and feet and hands,
And to his life is knit with hourly bands.

Come out, then, from the old thoughts and old ways,
Before you harden to a crystal cold
Which the new life can shatter, but not mould;
Freedom for you still waits, still looking backward, stays,
But widens still the irretrievable space.

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