The world knows Amanda Gorman’s name. Much of the world, I think, has probably heard her speak, her voice soaring over our capitol’s steps, promising a bright, hopeful new day. I watched her live, and cried my eyes out. Last year I read Maya Angelou’s 1993 inaugural poem, On the Pulse of Morning, and cried my way through it. Today, I read Gorman’s The Hill We Climb and—you guessed it—cried so hard I almost sobbed, because hope moves me like little else.
Gorman looks clear-eyed at our U.S., fractered and fracturing, filled with the myths of manifest destiny and hidden empires, shot through with the defiance and desperation of those who for hundreds of years have fought to make it live up to its great words. She makes of its past and present and future a song of hope and triumph, a reminder of the beauty and the power of coming together as a people.
To rise up, Gorman says, we must face down the past, and (if that is even possible) right the wrongs of yesterday and also today: “The hill we climb, if only we dare it: / Because being American is more than a / pride we inherit— / It’s the past we step into, and how we / repair it.” To be an American is to carry the weight of our pasts around our necks, whether we admit it or no—and we have a responsibility to forge something better, and to try to repair the horrors of yesterday (and today).
The Hill We Climb isn’t just a poem of celebration: it is a clarion call to action, to make this country a better place, a place we won’t be ashamed to hand off to successive generations. Gorman’s call comes through loud and clear: “Because we know our inaction and inertia / Will be the inheritance of the next generation. / Our blunders become their burdens.” Their burdens: climate change, structural racism, misogyny, voter suppression. Their burdens—our burdens—have been passed down, generation to generation, for far too long.
The Hill We Climb is a call to create a better, more just future: a reminder that the past is always there, that we must face it and acknowledge it in order to move forward. It is time for us to look to the future, to address the wrongs of the past. Gorman’s words are celebration and cry of hope in a shadowed world, a reminder of the beauty we can find in our country—and in each other.