Amanda Gorman. The Hill We Climb: An Inaugural Poem for the Country. Viking, 2021 (29 pages)
The last several inaugural seasons—since 2009—have felt historic, not just that we are progressing through time, but because it feels as if significant shifts in our body politic have ushered in new eras complete with new perspectives, new ideas and ideals, and new hopes and dreams. As such, times like these introduce new faces, new voices, and new art. In such moments, we experience and embrace the very best of our nation, that the fulfilment of America’s telos is inaugurated all over again. Perhaps it is best to see our January ritual, not as the formal start of a new presidency, but the (re-)birthing of our nation, refreshed, and renewed. After all, to see the kingdom of God required being born again.
In the context of the 2021 inauguration, the mere presence and words of Amanda Gorman were beautiful, salient, and moving. A few months removed from that time and the words read as a profound call to hope as an identity for our country. I commend this for your reading and consideration, not for fetishizing an important event, nor simply to “own” an American artifact. Rather, I suggest we embrace the deep, profound, and compelling mystery of hope that finally had the platform it has for centuries deserved.
The Hill We Climb
Mr. President and Dr. biden,
Madam Vice President and Mr. Emhoff,
Americans, and the World:
When day comes we ask ourselves:
where can we find light
In this neverending 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
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
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 that we can reach out our arms to one
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.
Not because we will never again know
But because we will never again sow
Scripture tells us to envision that:
“Everyone shall sit under their own vine and
And no one shall make them afraid.”
If we’re to live up to our own time, then
Won’t lie in the blade, but in in all of the bridges
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
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our
nation rather than share it,
Would destroy our country if it meant
And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically
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 it at its inception.
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs
Of such a terrifying hour.
But within it we’ve 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
Our blunders become their burden.
But one thing is certain:
If we merge mercy with might, and might
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-
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
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,
In every known nook of our nation,
In every corner called our country,
Our people, diverse and dutiful.
We’ll emerge, battered but beautiful.
When day comes, we step out of the
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.