“On the Pulse of Morning” has a strongly anticipatory and prophetic tone, meaning that the poem is oriented toward a future that has yet to arrive. The speaker does address the brutal violence of U.S. history—both the displacement and genocide of Indigenous peoples, and the enslavement of people of African descent. However, the speaker acknowledges these histories as a way of reorienting to the future. And not just to the future in general, but to a distinctly better future that is more likely to come if we readers, in the present, can learn to face our past. The speaker underscores the relationship between past, present, and future at several moments in the poem. Consider, for instance, the words spoken by the River:

     Each of you, a bordered country,
     Delicate and strangely made proud,
     Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.
     Your armed struggles for profit
     Have left collars of waste upon
     My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.
     Yet today I call you to my riverside
     If you will study war no more.

Here (lines 26–33), the River remarks on how past divisions between human communities have led to violent conflict. The River also addresses how the historical race for development and profit have led to environmental pollution. However, the River concludes with an invitation to learn from these histories. If we humans can learn to give peace a chance, then not only can we heal the damage we’ve done to each other, but we can also restore the land itself. A different—and hopefully better—future is just over the horizon.