The day before the inauguration ceremony, I came across an Instagram post about a young poet named Amanda Gorman. I read the article about her and thought: “she sounds cool” and started following her on Instagram. I was looking forward to her poem recitation during the presidential inauguration ceremony but only as much as I was excited about Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez’s performances.
After President Joe Biden and Madam Vice President Kamala Harris were sworn in, Gorman delivered her poem titled The Hill We Climb — and I realized, I was wrong about her sounding “cool.” Amanda Gorman is very awesome. I thought she completely stole the spotlight and shined brighter than any star on the stage. The 22-year-old Harvard graduate from Los Angeles, California had won my heart within the 5 minutes she spoke on national TV.
Gorman delivered her poem that echoes messages of unity, healing, grief, and hope with poise and grace. Her words moved me and she inspired me.
I’m not great with poems, and honestly speaking, I often find it hard to relate to them. However, Gorman’s work reached me in more ways than I could have imagined possible. After the ceremony was over, I couldn’t help myself from reading the full poem again and from learning more about the writer herself.
Please note that the below interpretations are 100% my own.
First takeaway: “Where can we find light in this never-ending shade?”
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 just-ice
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
Although I had always been aware of the Black Lives Matter movement in the past, I never truly understood the importance of it until 2020; I reached out to my African American friends to learn about their personal experiences and spent more time reading and learning the history. As a Taiwanese American, I’m a woman of color, too, but when I was younger, I thought: "Black Lives Matter had nothing to do with me." I was obviously very wrong about that.
In Gorman’s poem, she refers to racial injustice as "the shade." She reminded us that staying silent does not mean being peaceful — in other words, speaking up is necessary sometimes when we want to make a real difference.
Racial injustice is not a new problem; for centuries, it has existed. And this is an ongoing matter that we as a nation need to tackle. It’s a work-in-progress that is simply unfinished, as Gorman described it.
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, 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
When Gorman talked about unity, she talks about one that is with substance — a union filled with love and “harmony” — a future where we don’t focus on what makes all of us different, but what unifies us as one.
(Photo: New York Times)
Second takeaway: “That even as we grieved, we grew”
We often talk about learning from our mistakes and growing with experience, but oftentimes, we forget how going through different stages of grief can also allow one to progress, to step into a brighter, and perhaps wiser, tomorrow.
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
In many ways, I feel like this part of the poem is also relatable in relation to the current global pandemic. Because despite everyone going through different challenges and dealing with different losses the past year, it’s the first time in history where the entire nation (and the whole world, too) is dealing with one common enemy — i.e. the coronavirus. Although for months and months, we are being “hurt” by COVID, we do not stop hoping that soon, we will defeat it and overcome it.
The nation most certainly also grieved for what happened at The Capitol, for the assault on democracy on January 6. And Gorman included that in her poem, too.
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
According to the interview she did with New York Times, Gorman felt “stuck” at one point and wasn’t sure if she could deliver a poem worthy of such a historical event. But the storming of The Capitol actually became “the nudge” — and she completed the poem that same night.
So while once we asked,
how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?
Now we assert
How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
Third takeaway: “For there is always light”
One of my favorite parts of the beautifully-written poem is:
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
I believe we will all feel better knowing that what we are striving to build together makes a better future for our children, the next generation. Well, I'm actually 12 years older than Gorman, so maybe the next, next generation.
However, I anticipate a future filled with hopeful dreams knowing that inspirational individuals like Amanda Gorman and young activist Greta Thunberg, for example, are here to inspire those who are even younger. I believe their voices will be louder than ever.
We will rebuild, reconcile and recover
and every known nook of our nation and
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
I’m so grateful for being able to watch the young writer recite her inspiring words on live television, to admire her strength and ability, and to witness what’s likely the beginning of a new era where “togetherness” is once again being prioritized by everyone.
I was very surprised to learn that as a child, Gorman actually had difficulty pronouncing certain sounds. Similar to President Joe Biden who stuttered when he was younger, they both once suffered from a speech impediment. But because of it, Gorman was drawn to poetry at a younger age — and perhaps that was how she found her “light” from what may have initially appeared as “the shade.”