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Walt Whitman and Kazi Nazrul Islam: The Nationalist, Humanist and Poetical Egalitarians

Written by: Mustofa Munir

Walt Whitman (1819–1892) and Kazi Nazrul Islam(1899-1976) have inculcated democratic, nationalistic, egalitarian and humanitarian aspects and ideals in their poetry. The very theme of the poem ‘Pioneers! O Pioneers’ has evolved from a heart of a poet who witnessed disorders and chaos, death and disorientation in America during the civil war (1861-1865).  Whitman in his entire poem admired and inspired the new race to bear the brunt of erroneous political miseries and appealed them to tread ahead with a foremost responsibility to achieve a great eternal task. He also submitted his earnest appeal to all the members in the households, all who worked in the fields, mills and the sea to move forward together and emancipate the nation from the chaotic state. Another evoker of youthful passion in the East, Poet Nazrul rejuvenated the subjugated young generations of India with his invigorating poem ‘The Fore-runners’ during the British colonial rule (1858-1947) in India. In the poem, the poet was all along with the youths in their sufferings, in their onerous journey on the road to freedom— the freedom of a motherland.

INTRODUCTION:

In his preface of 1855 edition of ‘Leaves of Grass’, Whitman wrote, "The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it." It is truly a statement of a nationalist poet though Whitman missed the issues concerning slavery in the social systems. But his words spoke about the life of American people as a whole— their society and culture so much so that Poet Ezra Pound called Whitman "America's poet ... He is America.”

Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam wrote many poems with powerful arousing themes that awakened the whole oppressed and fettered nation of India. He included some of those poems in his famous anthology ‘Sanchita’ and published it in 1928 in Kolkata, India. The poem ‘The Fore-runners’ (Ogro-pothik) is one of them. It is ablaze with the themes of enthusiasm, courage, determination and hope. It adorned him with an image of a nationalist, encourager and reformer. The theme of the poem still prevails in the heart of the people who are oppressed and crippled by life's countless injustices.  

 

ANALYSIS:

‘Pioneers O Pioneers’  by Walt Whitman  

“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!”

 

(Whole poem)

 

 

Walt Whitman published this poem ‘Pioneers, O pioneers’ in 1865 when the people of America had witnessed a civil war in their land. During the time of civil war a total unrest prevailed all over the northern and southern states, people started fleeing from one place to another in search of jobs and secured life. In this poem the narrator, Poet Whitman, inspired the people of all walks of life— the young boys and girls, workers, farmers, sailors, latent minstrels of prairies and even the masters of the slaves of the land to rise up. He urged them to work hard to see a different world in their great land of America. The striking force of the poem was his words of enthusiasm, hope, unity and perseverance. A tremendous national feeling with an endless force was released from the poem. The narrator included every living human entity as a pioneer of the land.  To him ‘All the forms and shows’ and all workers in the land were the pioneers.

“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!”

 

The narrator praised the well-built young generations as sinewy races. He inspired the youths to overcome the danger and obstacles that lied ahead of them and move forward.

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!”

 

When the people of the land were in the fierce battle killing each other like resistless, restless race, the narrator expressed his love and grief to his beloved race. He mourned but exulted and loved them all. He seemed saturated and rapt with love.

“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!”

 

The narrator made an appeal to the pioneers—all youths of the land to leave the troubling past behind and debouch into a mightier and varied new world— a strong world, the world of labor they could seize.

“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!”

 

The narrator found himself as one of the advancing marchers and felt that the hour had come to die. Some of them were flaccid and drape or died. But he considered those who died were the fittest and surely the gaps would be filled up soon.

“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!”

 

He urged all daughters, mothers and wives of the West not to part away but to remain united and move forward together in the ranks of man.

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!

The narrator even urged many emotionally estranged hapless lovers to join the march of progress in nation’s crisis. The prisoners within prisons could help the country with their works and the righteous people with their sound thoughts and deeds. He included every living and dying person in the land— everyone who was happy and sad to contribute something for the land’s advancement.

“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!”

The soul and body of the narrator combined with pioneers and formed a curious trio. They walked slowly and wandered along the shores with some ghostly shadows. Time was difficult but still they were united as they were the trio.

“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!”

 

He asked them to look around, there every spherical thing was moving – the clustering stars, the  planets, all dazzling days and mystic nights with dreams were moving too.

“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!”

 

The narrator blended himself with the pioneers to form a single entity and wondered whether the night had fallen over them or they were drowsy and dispirited on the difficult road. He yielded them an hour to pause till the far-off daybreak-call came with a sound of a trumpet clear and loud along with a morning wind. He then urged them to move swift and spring to their places in front of their leader of the Army. It was his message to the pioneers to be alert and prepared to move fast.

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!

 

 

ANALYSIS:

 

‘The Fore-runners’ –Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899-1976) in Sanchita (1928), (translation: 2015)

All the youths of India were designated as forerunners by the narrator since they had the potentialities to show the light of emancipation to the rest of the shackled people of the land who were deprived of freedom.

The inspiring words of the poem stimulated the youths of India when the whole nation were under colonial subjugation of the British Raj (1858-1947). The narrator considered the youths as the harbingers of the future India and appealed them to move forward to salvage the land from the grip of the foreign ruler. Poet Nazrul wrote this poem in order to boost courage and induce hope in the hearts of all progressive juveniles of the motherland as they were the forerunners.

 

The poem *‘The Fore-runners’ (Ogro-pothik) is a long poem with twenty four stanzas. I quoted some of the stanzas below and analyzed a few lines of the stanzas that revealed the core theme of the poem.

 

“March ahead with strong steps!

O the soldiers,

The Fore-runners!  

Listen! O my sun-burnt dust-smear’d brothers and sisters,

In this deprav’d earth you’re the first expeditioners,”

 

 “The team of youths, we will grow crops and flowers!

March ahead with strong steps, O the Fore-runners!”

 

“The vibrant youths of the East,

The heroes and defiant,

O the symbol of humanity, our pride!

I foresee, with proud you march side by side,

Mountains you will cross, deserts and rivers!

On foot march ahead with strong steps,

The Fore-runners!”

 

“The tired, decrepit, ancient nation

Of the East lost the pride of dedication!

We will bear that burden, we’re the young,

We will take the eternal vow nobly sung,

We will teach them new invocation!”

 

 “Sing we will the song in an open valley.

A world we will create with variety, vigor and vitality,

Fresh and vivacious, a great work creat’d newly,

‘Tis in motion, voluptuous, lively!

O the team of the creators of the new age,

March ahead with strong steps and rage!”

 

“Move forward through the stream of water,

Extreme current difficult to cross over,

 

 “At Rashatal bottom we dig diamond mine,

In the womb of the virgin earth we produce flowers devine,”

With foot-steps the earth distance we measure,

March ahead with strong steps, O the restless Fore-runners!”

 

“Drifting through new stream of the East we’ve come,

Climb’d down from the peak of the ridg’d mountain owesome,

High plateau we cross’d and channels there,

Tracking the foot-print of a wound’d tiger,

We came out from the bottom of the earth’s abode,

The audacious travelers we are on the road!

The travelers- the front-army,

March ahead with steps stormy!”

 

 “O the young ascetic! Be stronger and passionate!

Open up the door of a dreadful, not the door of a compassionate!

The motherland— snake-fang’d, arms-bearing woman,

Hoist her flag that you can!

 ‘Tis your blood-thirsty unwavering cruel penance instead!

O soldiers, with strong steps march ahead!”

 

“In the veins of the timid earth the pulsation arises anew

For our sake with a hope new!

They’re ours, with firm stride who move ahead

Alone or in hundreds!

We’re strong and firm

With thousand strong arms!

O the sentries of the never-ending night full of dread!

With strong steps march ahead!”

 

 “Behold! The constellation of the auspicious

Stars and the sun glow brightly,

The day is full of light and bright and lively,

The night is dreamy,

All are looking at us friendly,

Nearer they’re but seems to us still afar!”

 

 

 “All with us, they’re ours;

They’re our friends, our co-travelers,

Day they’re, our

Night they’re!

The Fore-runners,

March ahead with steps stronger!”

 

“O the young girls of the East, the belov’d daughters,

Your companions call you! O the wives, O the sisters!

Since you’re not with us, humiliat’d today we’re!

Let your gem-ston’d anklets produce sounds there,

Move ahead O the lively wanton Fore-runners,

Team of youths! March ahead with steps stronger!”

 

 “Is it night?  Endless is road arduous?

Who stops you on the way, unenthusiastic, hopeless!

rest a while in road-side mansion beautiful,

If the short stoppage makes some forgetful

Of their strenuous days---let them forget!

Our goal is undaunt’d yet,

The Fore-runners, the team vow’d,

Have a courage, march ahead, march ahead!”

 

“Listen to that distant sound of bugle horn,

Announcing the tidings of the new dawn!”

 

“O you! Make haste! Go ahead, far ahead!

Sing the songs, the front-force, march ahead,

Move fast farther to the front-line in sights!

Get hold of your rights!”

(Lines are quoted partly from the poem)

 

As an evoker of aspirations the narrator addressed the youths as dust smeared, sun burnt brothers and sisters and the first expeditioners of this sullied earth. He urged them to march ahead on the arduous road.

 “Listen! O my sun-burnt dust-smear’d brothers and sisters,

In this deprav’d earth you’re the first expeditioners,”

 

The narrator merged with the youths and by being a part of the team he would join them to grow crops and flowers in the fields of the motherland.

“The team of youths, we will grow crops and flowers!

March ahead with strong steps, O the Fore-runners!”

 

He addressed them as the vibrant youths of the East. They were the heroes who defied and reacted to the unjust ruler. They were the symbols of humanity and the pride of the land who marched side by side—

“The vibrant youths of the East,

The heroes and defiant,

O the symbol of humanity, our pride!

I foresee, with proud you march side by side,”

 

The narrator together with the youths declared that they would revive the lost pride of the ancient nation of the East and vowed to move ahead with a new spirit of invocation. The nation had once pride of dedication, now they lost that joy and marvel. They are now tired and debilitated—

“The tired, decrepit, ancient nation

Of the East lost the pride of dedication!

We will bear that burden, we’re the young,

We will take the eternal vow nobly sung,

We will teach them new invocation!”

 

The narrator came forward to sing a rousing song with the youths together in an open valley to prompt the world to live side by side with various colors and culture, vigor and strength. He urged them to create a new age—

“Sing we will the song in an open valley.

A world we will create with variety, vigor and vitality,

Fresh and vivacious, a great work creat’d newly,

‘Tis in motion, voluptuous, lively!

O the team of the creators of the new age,

 

March ahead with strong steps and rage!”

 

The narrator incorporated himself with the spirit of the youths and uttered some appealing, inspiring and dynamic words in the lines below that revealed a strong determination and hope to achieve the freedom by defeating all adversities—

“At Rashatal bottom we dig diamond mine,

In the womb of the virgin earth we produce flowers divine,”

 

Rashatal: the lowest bottom of the hell. (Hindu myth)

 

The narrator hailed the youths as unflinching travelers who by tracking down the footprints of a wounded tiger drifted along the stream, climbed down the peak of the ridged mountains, walked over the plateau and crossed over the channels of the East.

 

“Drifting through new stream of the East we’ve come,

Climb’d down from the peak of the ridg’d mountain owesome,

High plateau we cross’d and channels there

Tracking the foot-print of a wound’d tiger,

We came out from the bottom of the earth’s abode,

The audacious travelers we are on the road!”

 

The narrator amalgamated himself with the spirit of the youths and expressed his passion that a new hope he felt in the pulsations of the timid earth. He shared the spirit with them saying –“we were strong and firm with thousand strong arms!”

“In the veins of the timid earth the pulsation arises anew

For our sake with a hope new!

They’re ours, with firm stride they move ahead

Alone or in hundreds!

We’re strong and firm

With thousand strong arms!

 

The narrator envisioned the bright future of the nation. He saw the glowing constellations of stars and a dreamy night. They were all looking at them with a friendly gaze. The day was lively under the shining sun. The stars were not very far from them and victory was very near.

“Behold! The constellation of the auspicious

Stars and the sun glow brightly,

The day is full of light and bright and lively,

The night is dreamy,

All are looking at us friendly,

Nearer they’re but seems to us still afar!”

 

At the end again the narrator delivered the message of hope and aspirations to the youths, the front-force of the battle. He wanted them to listen to the sound of a distant bugle horn that pronounced the glad tidings of the new dawn. He besought them to march forward in haste as the front-line was within their sights. He demanded their attention to get hold of their rights.

 

“Listen to that distant sound of bugle horn,

Announcing the tidings of the new dawn!”

“O you! Make haste! Go ahead, far ahead!

Sing the songs, the front-force, march ahead,

Move fast farther to the front-line in sights!

Get hold of your rights!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

CONCLUSION:

 

Whenever there was any injustice or dismaying human subjugation in the society or in the land or in the world at large Poet Whitman and Nazrul left the imprint of their feelings, reactions and passion uniquely on their poetic works. The virtues of unity, universality, humanity and sacrifice have emanated precisely from their poems. The human pathos, fear and disgust are blended in their works. Whitman successfully articulated himself in this poem as an authentic American poet. Here he was the symbol of the American spirit.  Both Poets had shown passion and perceiving self that connected them very intrinsically with the spirits they produced in those two poems what made them the great literary talents of the world. Above all, the world literature always desires and expects such poetic works from the poets who, in their poems, uphold the cause of miseries that plagued the humanity.

 

 

Source:

  1. “Pioneers O pioneers”  Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass.  
  2. Sanchita, Selected poems and Lyrics of Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam, 2015,

  page 197. Outskirts Press Inc., USA.

 

 

© Mustofa Munir, USA 2019