Amanda Gorman opened her inauguration poem, “The Hill We Climb,” with a question.
Addressing newly sworn in President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, those of us watching, and the world, she said:
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.
Gorman spoke outside the U.S. Capitol, which two weeks ago was attacked by a largely white pro-Trump mob, and reminded us that “Somehow, we’ve weathered and witnessed / A nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.”
The 22-year-old poet was the latest to follow in a tradition of poets — including Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, Elizabeth Alexander, and Richard Blanco — who have read for incoming Democratic presidents. Of this group of esteemed poets, Gorman is the youngest in recent memory to read a poem on Inauguration Day.
Gorman, describing herself, nodded to the fact that 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.”
The Los Angeles native told the PBS NewsHour days before the ceremony that she started writing the new poem in early January, shortly after being invited to present an inauguration poem.
When the pro-Trump insurrectionists attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, she was about halfway through her poem.
“I don’t want to say that my poem took a drastic left turn, because it was already going towards a location, but those events just solidified for me how important it was to have a poem about unity and the new chapter of America in this inauguration,” she told the NewsHour.
While Biden’s theme for the inauguration was unity, Gorman gave it more weight with her poem.
“And yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine. / But this doesn’t mean we’re striving to form a union that is perfect. / We are striving to forge our union with purpose.”