'Democracy can never be defeated': Amanda Gorman is youngest poet to perform at inauguration

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Amanda Gorman became the sixth and youngest poet to perform at a presidential inauguration on Wednesday, winning wide praise for her inspirational and thoughtful poem 'The Hill We Climb'. The 22-year-old from Los Angeles was following in the footsteps of the likes of Robert Frost and Maya Angelou.

The incoming first lady, Jill Biden, is a fan of her work. Gorman became the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles at the age of 16 in 2014, and the first national youth poet laureate three years later.

She appeared alongside Lady Gaga, who sang the American national anthem, Jennifer Lopez, and Garth Crooks. Her poem mentioned the riots in the US Capitol. A short extract published in the New York Times reads: “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.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, she had written about half of her poem when rioters stormed the US Capitol on January 6. She said she finished the poem that night.

She said later on Twitter that while reciting her poem, she had worn a ring with a caged bird, a gift from Oprah Winfrey for the occasion, to symbolise Maya Angelou, a previous inaugural poet.: "Here’s to the women who have climbed my hills before."

The theme of Joe Biden’s inauguration was America United. Gorman told the LA Times that she has struggled since childhood with a speech impediment that makes it hard for her to say certain sounds correctly. “I don’t look at my disability as a weakness. It’s made me the performer that I am and the storyteller that I strive to be.”

 

You can watch her performing her inauguration poem here 

 

This is the full text of Amanda Gorman's 'The Hill We Climb'

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’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 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 our union with purpose.
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 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 we’ll 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 shall 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 the bridges we’ve made.
That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb, if only we dare.
It’s 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 force that would shatter our nation rather than share it.
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
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 it at its inception.
We did not 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 the one we were left.
With every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.
We will rise from the golden hills of the west.
We will rise from the wind-swept north-east where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states.
We will rise from the sun-baked south.
We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.
In every known nook of our nation, in every corner called our country,
our people, diverse and beautiful, will emerge, battered and beautiful.
When day comes, we step out of the shade, 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.

 


PHOTOGRAPH: BBC

◄ Trains, trolleybuses, rag and bone men: Ray Pool publishes online book of archive photographs

The Hundred Years' War anthology, Newbury, 2015 ►

Comments

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M.C. Newberry

Thu 21st Jan 2021 17:32

Some excellent lines - especially those closing this piece.

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Greg Freeman

Thu 21st Jan 2021 17:06

Wasn't it, Stephen? A wonderful end to a very good day

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Stephen Gospage

Thu 21st Jan 2021 16:18

This was a truly inspiring performance.

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