Tuesday, January 20, 2009


As someone who reads, writes, and loves poetry, I was pleased to learn that President Obama had commissioned a poem for his Inauguration today. The poet, Elizabeth Alexander, is one I had not previously been aware of, but I think she wrote a wonderful inclusive, celebratory piece. Only four times has there been poetry read at a Presidential inauguration. Most cherished to me is my beloved Robert Frost reading for John F. Kennedy. Bill Clinton had poets read at both his inaugurations, at the first was the memorable Maya Angelou, and at the second, Arkansas poet Miller Williams. I hope this is a tradition that has been revived and will continue. Here's is the full text of Alexander's poem.

Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others’ eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues. Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer consider the changing sky; A teacher says, “Take out your pencils. Begin.”

We encounter each other in words, Words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; Words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said, “I need to see what’s on the other side; I know there’s something better down the road.”

We need to find a place where we are safe; We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign; The figuring it out at kitchen tables.

Some live by “Love thy neighbor as thy self.”

Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.

What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp -- praise song for walking forward in that light.

Poem text at http://www.nowpublic.com/world/barack-obamas-inaugural-poem-praise-song-day-full-text
Photo from Wikimedia Commons


Shellmo said...

I'm glad you posted the words to this poem - so the words could sink in and I could relive it again.

bobbie said...

I'm glad you printed the whole poem. I was going to do that too. It is a great poem.

I do believe Elizabeth Alexander is a far better poet than she is a speaker. That was unfortunate. But I do love the poem.

Sylvia K said...

A beautiful poem! Thanks for posting it!

Anonymous said...

Yes, I saw her today. I did like that poem. Glad you posted it.

Lin said...

well i'm a visual learner and got a lot more out of the poem reading it than hearing it...very thoughtfully done.

SandyCarlson said...

Frost's work stands out in my mind as the best. I love that he had the audacity to recite what he knew by heart rather than what he had prepared because the sun was too bright on the page. He wasn't taking chances.

Kallen305 said...

Such beautiful words to this poem. Thanks for posting it.

Dana said...

Beautiful! A wonderful ode to responsibility for those
vulnerable and faceless many who died to make a present possible! And a fascinating praise of love without concupiscence and endless care for the other!
I can only hope that such beautiful thoughts will be an inspiration for productive agency and existence!

magiceye said...

a lovely poem
so apt for the occasion

mom/caryn said...

Beautiful words indeed. I pray that beautiful deeds will follow the poem.

I too gleaned a great deal more from reading them than from hearing them.

Thanks for posting them.

Quiet Paths said...

Deb, thanks so much for posting this. I was going to find it on YouTube but this is better. She won me over solidly with: Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need. I wonder what she was thinking looking out at that press of humanity on the Nat'l Mall?

2sweetnsaxy said...

I'm not big on poetry unless I hear it read. I did enjoy the poem very much.

Kathiesbirds said...

Well, it looks like I am going to be the lone dissenter here. I was very disappointed in her poem. I expected something better, more monumental and uplifting. More meaningful. I was dissapointed for her and for the nation. I was so glad Obama had chosen to have a poem read, but this one, I fear, will convince more peole why they don't like poetry, which is sad. It was a great oppurtunity lost in my opinion. No offense to Ms Alexander, but this was my impression and this is my honest opinion. You know I love poetry. This one let me down. It was too ordinary on an extrodinary day. The final 2 lines are the best.

me ann my camera said...

I listened to this as she spoke; smiled when she spoke, "take out your pencils and begin", grimaced a bit when she spoke of the glistening edifices built, then of the need to keep it clean from within.

I found myself there too, I belonged, I did not feel my Canadianism separating me, for I recognized the words of bonding, not separating. I found her poem inclusive of all who have words to speak, and share, and to use as tools for reaching out to gather within.

Thank you also for printing it out for I hadn't gotten this far in researching some of the most beautiful parts of the ceremony as yet.

a little bird said...

I was about to blog about her, it's funny that you beat me to it -Robert Frost recited his from memory, no? What an honor for Elizabeth Alexander - & hopefully a harbinger of good things to come!