The 22-year-old Los Angeles poet Amanda Gorman, America’s first ever National Youth Poet Laureate, helped set the symbolic tone at US President Joseph Biden Jr’s inauguration on Wednesday with the reading of her new work The Hill We Climb. Gorman powerfully urged those listening to turn away from the division and destruction the country has been gripped by in recent years toward a brighter future of reconciliation, ending with the memorable lines: "For there is always light, if only we're brave enough to see it. If only we're brave enough to be it."
The tradition of having a poet recite their work during the inauguration ceremonies was started by President John F. Kennedy, who personally invited Robert Frost to his in 1961. But the practice was not picked up until Bill Clinton asked Maya Angelou to give a reading at his first inauguration in 1993—and Miller Williams at his second in 1997. Barack Obama followed up with Elizabeth Alexander and Richard Blanco. Biden is known as a long-time lover of verse, using the works of Irish poet W.B. Yeats to overcome a stutter in his youth, and regularly quoting Seamus Heaney and James Joyce at public events. Gorman herself struggled to pronounce certain sounds as a child—something that made her the focused and forceful performer she is today, she recently told The Los Angeles Times.
You can hear and read her inauguration poem, to be published in her first collected volume this September, below:
The Hill We Climb
by Amanda Gorman
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 justice.
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 our union with purpose,
To compose a country, committed to all cultures, colors, characters, and conditions of man.
And so we lift our gaze 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 promised 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 in 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 moved 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 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-limned 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,
In every known nook of our nation in every corner called our country.
Our people diverse and beautiful will emerged, 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.