The 22-year-old revised her original composition, “The Hill We Climb,” in the aftermath of the January 6 storming of the Capitol.
Gorman’s inaugural poem contains lines stating “But while democracy can be periodically delayed / It can never be permanently defeated.” (Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)
As incoming President Joe Biden prepared to take the oath of office in a city still reeling from the January 6 attack on the Capitol, 22-year-old poet Amanda Gorman was charged with capturing the spirit of the moment.
RELATED CONTENTPoetry Matters: Lessons From America’s First Inaugural PoetThis afternoon, with her reading of an original composition titled “The Hill We Climb,” she did just that—and, in doing so, became the youngest inaugural poet in United States history.“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 told the New York Times’ Alexandra Alter ahead of the ceremony. “It’s doing that in a way that is not erasing or neglecting the harsh truths I think America needs to reconcile with.”Growing up in Los Angeles, where her mother teaches middle school, Gorman began writing poetry as a child. At 16, she served as a youth delegate for the United Nations. Soon after that, she became the Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles and published her first collection, The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough.
In 2017, while studying sociology at Harvard University, she was named the country’s first National Youth Poet Laureate.As incoming President Joe Biden prepared to take the oath of office in a city still reeling from the January 6 attack on the Capitol, 22-year-old poet Amanda Gorman was charged with capturing the spirit of the moment.
Only three previous presidents have had a poet recite work at their inaugurations, per Poets.org. The first was John F. Kennedy, who recruited Robert Frost to speak at his ceremony in 1961. Bill Clinton invited Maya Angelou to perform when he first took office in 1993 and tapped Miller Williams to perform at his second inauguration in 1997. Barack Obama invited Elizabeth Alexander in 2009 and Richard Blanco in 2013.
“The Hill We Climb” reads, in part:
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.
I love Robert Frost, and I think Amanda Gorman is a most worthy successor. Few of you remember that California had a Poet Laurate. He was the English teacher for my high school classmates who went on to Reedley College. His name was Charles Garrigus. I had the honor of attending one of his classes. He was also the State Assemblyman from our voting area.
Why only Democratic Presidents have poetry at their Inaugurations?