When the entire world was watching the inauguration of America’s 46th President Joe Biden on Wednesday, a poem recited by 22-year-old African American poet Amanda Gorman on the occasion, stole hearts as it rang true for the resilience and strength the country has displayed in the face of a pandemic and internal conflicts.
Gorman, the country’s first Youth Poet Laureate was also the youngest poet to perform at a presidential inauguration.
Her poem The Hill We Climb starts with, “When day comes, we ask ourselves where can we fight light in this never-ending shade?”
It makes an indirect reference to the recent siege of the Capitol Hill, but calls to put differences aside for a stronger nation and hope in the face of hurt.
“We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy…And this effort very nearly succeeded. But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated,” she read.
In the poem that ran for a little more than five minutes, Gorman, hinting at the inclusivity of American culture, said even a “skinny black woman” who has descended from the slaves can now aspire to run for the President one day.
“We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one,” she read.
Speaking to the BBC, Gorman said she felt “excitement, joy, honour and humility… and also at the same time terror” when she was asked to recite at the ceremony.
“I really wanted to use my words to be a point of unity and collaboration and togetherness,” Gorman told BBC World Service’s Newshour programme ahead of the inauguration ceremony.
Gorman’s choice of words was highly applauded with several celebrities and politicians giving her a shout out on social media.
“With her strong and poignant words, @TheAmandaGorman reminds us of the power we each hold in upholding our democracy. Keep shining, Amanda! I can’t wait to see what you do next,” tweeted former first lady Michelle Obama.
Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton said she can’t wait for Gorman’s promised presidential run in 2036.
“Wasn’t @TheAmandaGorman’s poem just stunning? She’s promised to run for president in 2036 and I for one can’t wait,” Clinton tweeted.
Actor and US broadcaster Oprah Winfrey put Gorman in the coveted league of black poets like Maya Angelou.
“I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise! Brava Brava, @TheAmandaGorman! Maya Angelou is cheering – and so am I,” she tweeted.
Illinois poet laureate Angela Jackson described Gorman’s recitation as “rich and just so filled with truth.”
Born in 1998, and raised by a single mother, Gorman took a liking for reading and writing at a young age. She studied sociology at Harvard College and in April 2017 was named the first national youth laureate. Her poetry focuses on the African diaspora, feminism, race and marginalization. She calls Pakistani Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai her inspiration. Gorman is the author of The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough, an anthology of poems published in 2015 and founder of One Pen One Page, an NGO which runs a youth writing and leadership programme.
Here’s the full text of the poem that she read out at Biden’s presidential inauguration:
When day comes we ask ourselves,
where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade
We’ve braved the belly of the beast
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace
And the norms and notions
of what just is
Isn’t always just-ice
And yet the dawn is ours
before we knew it
Somehow we do it
Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed
a nation that isn’t broken
but simply unfinished
We the successors of a country and a time
Where a skinny Black girl
descended from slaves and raised by a single mother
can dream of becoming president
only to find herself reciting for one
And yes we are far from polished
far from pristine
but that doesn’t mean we are
striving to form a union that is perfect
We are striving to forge a union with purpose
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and
conditions of man
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us
but what stands before us
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,
we must first put our differences aside
We lay down our arms
so we can reach out our arms
to one another
We seek harm to none and harmony for all
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew
That even as we hurt, we hoped
That even as we tired, we tried
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious
Not because we will never again know defeat
but because we will never again sow division
Scripture tells us to envision
that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree
And no one shall make them afraid
If we’re to live up to our own time
Then victory won’t lie in the blade
But in all the bridges we’ve made
That is the promise to glade
The hill we climb
If only we dare
It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit,
it’s the past we step into
and how we repair it
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation
rather than share it
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy
And this effort very nearly succeeded
But while democracy can be periodically delayed
it can never be permanently defeated
In this truth
in this faith we trust
For while we have our eyes on the future
history has its eyes on us
This is the era of just redemption
We feared at its inception
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs
of such a terrifying hour
but within it we found the power
to author a new chapter
To offer hope and laughter to ourselves
So while once we asked,
how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?
Now we assert
How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was
but move to what shall be
A country that is bruised but whole,
benevolent but bold,
fierce and free
We will not be turned around
or interrupted by intimidation
because we know our inaction and inertia
will be the inheritance of the next generation
Our blunders become their burdens
But one thing is certain:
If we merge mercy with might,
and might with right,
then love becomes our legacy
and change our children’s birthright
So let us leave behind a country
better than the one we were left with
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest,
we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one
We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the west,
we will rise from the windswept northeast
where our forefathers first realized revolution
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states,
we will rise from the sunbaked south
We will rebuild, reconcile and recover
and every known nook of our nation and
every corner called our country,
our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,
battered and beautiful
When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it