The Sealey Challenge: On the Pulse of Morning

Maya Angelou's On the Pulse of Morning, with a library tag, in front of yellow cup plants touching a sunset sky.
On the Pulse of Morning

Who’d have thought, after reading Library of Small Catastrophes and The Verging Cities and Underworlds, it’d be an inaugural poem full of hope that would make me cry? But I’m not a hopeful sort, so maybe that’s why Maya Angelou’s On the Pulse of Morning hits me quite so hard.

Angelou’s poem was originally performed at Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration, and it is, I suppose, inexorably linked both to the ’90s and to the Clinton era. But it sweeps so much higher, and cries out for greater things: it is no political shill. On the Pulse of Morning looks back with clear eyes to the hell of the past, but yet it, and Angelou, strive for something greater. If we come together, she suggests, if we but listen to the rock and the river and the tree, if we look clear-eyed at our ugly past and strive together toward tomorrow, we can build a better future.

We can built a better country. It runs through Angelou’s poem like the river, and stands like the rock. We can make something better. Maybe that, more than anything, is why I cried to read it: because the world’s on fire, and God knows how long we’ll all be under quarantines, but if we stand together, as people across this country and even the world are standing together now, demanding something better, we can build a better, more just country—a country that can come closer to the ideals we have always espoused, and ignored.

On the Pulse of Morning is, I guess, a masterful example of the importance and indeed the power of hope, especially when the times are bleak.

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