Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman delivers a message for the ages

    National youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman arrives at the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021 in Washington. (Win McNamee/Pool Photo via AP)
    National youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman arrives at the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021 in Washington. (Win McNamee/Pool Photo via AP) CC BY 2.0

    In a country painfully and deeply divided in so many ways, Amanda Gorman stepped up to the podium at Joe Biden’s inauguration and delivered “The Hill We Climb,” a poem that encapsulates all of today’s tragedy and triumph. Gorman, 22, is the youngest inaugural poet in this nation’s history.

    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

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    Catherine Capellaro
    Catherine Capellaro is a freelance writer and the arts and culture editor for Isthmus in Madison, Wisconsin. She is also the former managing editor of Rethinking Schools, a former anchor and reporter for Wisconsin Public Radio and WORT-89.9 FM and an accomplished playwright and musician.