Amanda Gorman wrote and recited “The Hill We Climb” performed during Biden Harris’s inauguration due to the experiences America was going through at that time, such as political, social, and economic issues and challenges due to COVID-19. The poem is about the challenges faced by the country due to equality for all people and the hope for the country to unite in order to heal from what they had all gone through.
Gorman is a National Youth Poet Laureate and the youngest inaugural poet in the history of the U.S. The Harvard graduate of sociology was selected to perform at the inaugural by the Presidential Inaugural for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
The poem is hopeful and highlights the issues faced in the United States in 2021, such as what had happened in the last four years prior to the inauguration in the statehouse and the days closer to the inauguration. The four years were characterized by police murders, the murder of George Floyd, and insurrection at the capital. The poem alludes to the challenges due to the unrest, racial injustices Coronavirus and the country’s economy, and Trump’s administration. The poem shows that the country is in a fragile state, for example, in the verses below.
“We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it,
It would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed,
It cannot be defeated.”
The country’s state is also stressed by the use of words such as shade to symbolize the dark moments experienced in the country (Gorman lines 21-40). Gorman also takes the audience through the horrors they have experienced as represented by the use of lines such as “a sea we must wade” to show the troubles they have to deal with and “belly of the beast (Lines 1-20). “The line belly and the best could also be a biblical allusion to Jonah who had to survive in the belly of a fish and survived through it all. It shows the dangers and threats the country was facing. The poet emphasizes the need to not dwell on the challenges of the past but focus on how they could handle future catastrophes.
The poet uses the choice of words such as “light”, “new dawn”, “inheritance of the new generation. The poet says that they will not be turned around or disrupted by intimidation to show that there was hope that the new administration would be characterized by changes from what was previously experienced with the old administration. The use of repetition in “We will rise” gives hope that things were going to change for the better (lines 94-99). The poet says that they will rebuild, reconcile and recover. The poet indicates that there is hope by saying that America is not broken but unfinished, showing that something needed to be done by the new administration to make the country whole or finished.
The title of the poem “The hill we climb” is metaphorically used in several lines to show that current America is required to learn the past as they inherited the bad and the good and “repair” where there was a need for improvement. It is a call for action for the citizen of America to embrace hope, resilience, healing, and unity. The poem uses “shade” to show the darkness or the ugly state of the country and “light” to represent hope which the poet says can be achieved if people dared to see it, spread it, be the right of hope, and progress.
The poem has a repetition of alliteration in “colors, characteristics, and condition which gives it a rhythm. Other alliterations in the poem include the use of “Future first” (lines 19-24) The poet uses the repetition of the words “If only” to emphasize the importance of Americans taking responsibility for the country’s progress. (Lines 100-110). The repeated use of the word “We” in the poem points out to the American audience who were being addressed and to whom the poem is calling upon for action (lines 30-33). It also helps in uniting the nation regardless of color, class, etc. However, the poem doesn’t follow any metrical pattern and is, therefore, a free verse. Repetition has been used widely in the poem to stress what Americans had gone through, give hope and the need to keep pushing. The repeat of phrases “that even as we” remind the audience that they have faced worse things but still managed to come out victoriously (lines 36-39). It has rhymes such as wade and shade, which gives the poem musicality and makes it easily memorable also, it helps capture attention. The poet also repeats the use of the phrase “We will rise” to show optimism and as an indication that there was hope for redemption with the new leadership (lines 94-99). She shows the possibility for a better America by repeating the words “Somehow”.
The poem “The hill we climb” is meant to remind the American people what they have been through and that they can achieve what they have always dreamt of achieving since “The light is always there” if they are ready and willing to step out of their comfort zone and unit to accomplish a common goal. It is a reminder that they shouldn’t so much focus on challenges of the past and focus on achieving the best. It encourages the citizens to not give up for the country isn’t broken but unfinished (Burnett pp.225-236)
Burnett, Ipek S. ““A Nation That Isn’t Broken but Simply Unfinished”: Poetics of Humility and Radical Hope for a Democracy in the United States.” Philosophy and Global Affairs 1.2 (2021): 225-236.
Gorman, Amanda. The hill we climb: An inaugural poem for the country. Penguin, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wz4YuEvJ3y4