National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman — at 22, the youngest inaugural poet in United States history — awed the crowd on Inauguration Day with a poem that emphasized unity in a wounded America and urged the nation to march onwards toward a new era.
Her poem, an original work entitled “The Hill We Climb,” joins the compositions of other poets who have presided over presidential inaugurations, including Robert Frost — at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration — and Maya Angelou — at the inauguration of Bill Clinton.
Speaking with The New York Times, Gorman called the poem “probably one of the most important things I’ll ever do in my career,” and said that she had been halfway through writing it when pro-Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“In my poem, 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,” Gorman told the Times. “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. It’s doing that in a way that is not erasing or neglecting the harsh truths I think America needs to reconcile with.”
A partial transcription of Gorman’s poem reads:
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.
Gorman, who hails from Los Angeles and was named the city’s Youth Poet Laureate at age 16 and the country’s first National Youth Poet Laureate three years later, had a speech impediment at a young age where she had difficulty pronouncing certain letters. She told NPR that helped fuel her love of poetry, since it gave her an “arena in which I could express my thoughts freely.”
She was contacted by the inaugural committee of President Joe Biden in December after Dr. Jill Biden watched a video of her delivering another original poem, “In This Place: An American Lyric,” at the Library of Congress.
Gorman was not given express instructions on what to compose for the inauguration, and drew upon the speeches of American icons such as Dr. Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln for inspiration.
“Poetry is a weapon,” she told CBS News. “It is an instrument of social change ... and poetry is one of the most political arts out there because it demands that you rupture and destabilize the language in which you’re working with. Inherently, you are pushing against the status quo. And so for me, it’s always existed in that tradition of truth-telling.”