The Hill We Climb: A poet’s journey to Inauguration Day

When Amanda Gorman was writing her inaugural poem, The Hill We Climb, she faced a challenge unlike any of her predecessors.

Gorman set out to craft a poem that was both hopeful and realistic, one that reflected the political divisions that have fractured the United States but also the promise of greater unity. She finished writing the poem just after rioters stormed the Capitol on January 6.

American poet Amanda Gorman gave a profound lesson in youthful poise and optimism.Credit:AP

"I'm not going to in any way gloss over what we've seen over the past few weeks and, dare I say, the past few years. But what I really aspire to do in the poem is to be able to use my words to envision a way in which our country can still come together and can still heal," she said in an interview. "It's doing that in a way that is not erasing or neglecting the harsh truths I think America needs to reconcile with."

At 22, Gorman, who lives in Los Angeles, is the youngest inaugural poet in US history. She was brought to the Inaugural Committee's attention by first lady Jill Biden, who saw her recite a poem at the Library of Congress, and was struck by her performance and her bold yellow dress (Gorman wore a bright yellow blazer at the inauguration).

To prepare for her appearance, Gorman, who has a speech impediment, read the poem aloud over and over, "practicing it and trying to let it be known in my mouth, but not feel robotic," she said in an interview. Early reviews of her performance were glowing: On CNN, she was praised for summing "up with emotion and beautiful eloquence the idea of what this country came close to losing."

As she recited The Hill We Climb in the bright sunlight, her voice animated and full of emotion, Gorman described her background as a "skinny black girl, descended from slaves and raised by a single mother," who can dream of being president one day, "only to find herself reciting for one."

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.

With verses that echoed the theme of the inauguration, "America United," she spoke of the possibility of unity, redemption and reconciliation.

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.

Amanda Gorman's The Hill We Climb in full:

Mr President, Dr Biden, Madam Vice-President, Mr Emhoff, Americans and the world.

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 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 a union with purpose.

To compose a country committed to all cultures, colours, 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 will 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 will 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 of the bridges we've made.

That is the promise to glade. The hill we climb. 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 forest 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 its inception.

We did 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 one we were left. With every breath from a bronze, pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wonderous one.

We will rise from the golden hills of the west. We will rise from the wind-swept northeast where our forefathers first realised revolution.

We will rise from the 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 every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful. We'll emerge battered and beautiful.

When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid. The new dawn blooms we free as we free it.

There is new light. If only we're brave enough to see it. If only we're brave enough to be it.

The New York Times

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