The Stirring “Occasional” Poem of the 2021 U.S. Inauguration Poet, Amanda Gorman

U.S. 2021 Inauguration poet, Amanda Gorman

from The Hill We Climb

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.

Amanada Gorman, U.S. Inauguration poet, January 20th, 2021

Just how real this poem is, written by twenty-two year old Amanada Gorman was proved to me in a comment in marked contrast to this poem’s wisodom, geneosity amd hope. What made the comment worse was that it came from a white credibly-published American poet in California. His response to my Canadian friend’s excited and positive post of Gorman’s reading at the inauguration was to call her “a moron.” Someone who became Youth Poet Laureate of the U.S. and goes to Harvard, a moron? Oh dear. I think it says more about the man than it does about Gorman.

The comment and the post has been removed but it was a singular reminder that the divide Gorman calls closed may be far from it. At this moment. What would it take for that man to be able to say:  ” We lay down our arms/ so we can reach out our arms.”  I wonder about imagination. Gorman’s imagination is on full display in her poem. That she can imagine a country where divides and divisions end. Where arms can be put down so arms can reach out. Wade Davis, the noted social anthropoligist says” imagination is the enemy of dispair.” I would say that male poet beset with his own version of despair may be lacking the imagination to fight it. What could change him? What can change any of us stuck in a “I am right, you are wrong” place? That’s the answer we all need today.

When I saw Amanda perform her poem I was moved by its intelligence and power. And by the way she delivered it.  Like a “spoken word” piece. That energy and focussed impact.  At twenty two to write a “spoken word” piece like this is beyond commendable. Bravo! I found it compelling in its hope and its truth telling. It was finished the night of the Capitol riots on Januray 6th. If it could even open one heart dead set against the Biden presidency that would be a victory in my mind. The entrenched mindsets that would dismiss her poem can bring me close to despair. Then I have to remember. Put down arms, reach out your arms! Thank you Amanda.


To see Amanda’s poem presented as a Lesson for Students in the New York Times that explains the nature  and history of “Occasional” poems like her inauguration poem please click here.

Here is the full version of Amanda’s poem:

The Hill We Climb.

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.
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 we 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 sun-baked south.
We will rebuild, reconcile and recover,
and every known nook of our nation and
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.

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