Amanda Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet in American history, and faced the enormous challenge of delivering a unifying poem at a time of extraordinary division. She told the New York Times that she was struggling with the task until the insurrection at the Capitol, which provided her with a sense of purpose about the present moment. 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,” she 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.”
“Being American is more than a pride we inherit,” her poem read in part. “It’s the past we step into, and how we repair it.”
The Los Angeles native became the first National Youth Poet Laureate while studying at Harvard and will release her first book of poetry this year, titled The Hill We Climb. The title poem was the result of her challenge to write an inaugural text, and it leans heavy into biblical imagery. Gorman’s poem reads in part:
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 all the bridges we’ve made
You can watch it all here.
The inauguration was heavy on appeals to national unity, with former Presidents of both parties joining President Joe Biden in Washington D.C. for the event, though Biden’s predecessor declined to attend. Biden — the country’s second Catholic president — quoted St. Augustine’s City of God, saying “a nation is a multitude of rational beings united by the common objects of their love.”
Garth Brooks was on hand to sing “Amazing Grace” and Jennifer Lopez knocked “This Land Is Your Land” out of the park. Now, Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris embark on an ambitious day one agenda that includes rolling back former President Donald Trump’s “Muslim Ban,” preserving DACA and rejoining the Paris Accords.