Wednesday, January 21, 2009


I love poetry. I can recite hundreds of poems, many learned in early childhood. When I was a child, I especially loved the sing-songy verse of James Whitcomb Riley. As I matured, my tastes matured as well (but I still love Riley). I still sit and read poetry like others read an exciting novel.

I was absolutely delighted to find that President Obama selected a poet to write and read a poem for his inauguration. I listened intently to Elizabeth Alexander, and while the poem is lovely, I found it somewhat lacking in substance and inspiration. Perhaps this is because my mind kept wandering to the Clinton inaugural poem, written and read so movingly by Maya Angelou.

Her words ring even more true today, so I would like to share my favorite section of the poem:

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain,

Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.

Lift up your eyes

Upon the day breaking for you.
Give birth again

To the dream.

Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.
Mold it into the shape of your most

Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For a new beginning.
Do not be wedded forever

To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space
To place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me,
The Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.
No less to Midas than the mendicant.
No less to you now than the mastodon then.

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes,
And into your brother's face,
Your country,
And say simply
Very simply
With hope---
Good morning.

Photograph from Wikipedia

I hope you do not consider this a criticism of Alexander's poem. I am delighted that poetry once again has a place in the inauguration. And I did love her poem. It simply did not tug at my heart strings like "On the Pulse of Morning" has done since I first heard it. And it moves me so much that I wanted to share it with you. Look up the poem and read it in full. It is indeed a wonderful work.


Cedar ... said...

Yes. I agree. Wasn't and Isn't Maya's work incredible!

Anonymous said...

Both were lovely. I am not a big modern poetry fan. I perfer the romantics and post-civil war poetry.

Carol Murdock said...

I was thinking the exact same thing yesterday. I wish he had chosen Maya.I really expected it to be Maya mainly because of his connection to Oprah and hers to Maya.Do you follow Kathryn Byer?

This Is My Blog - fishing guy said...

Carolyn: Poetry is something that you enjoy or not. It is in the eye of the beholder. I didn't feel moved by the poem.

Unknown said...

This is a beautiful poem.
A friend just loaned me books that Maya has written. They are fasinating.

Cheryl said...

What an incredibly moving made me shiver beautifully written....
I shall look it up and read the full script.....

George said...

Thanks for the reminder of Maya's poem. I'll have to look up the full text.

Betsy Banks Adams said...

Carolyn, I'm not a poem/poetry person --never have been, but I love hearing Maya Angelou read ANYTHING. She's totally incredible. She could read Old MacDonald has a Farm--and make it seem as if it's a masterpiece!!!! ha

I didn't care for that poem yesterday either. Very disappointing.

kks said...


Shelley said...

I'm glad you posted this - I love Maya!

KGMom said...

Since I have taught a fair bit of literature, the one thing I always point out to students is that poetry is meant to be spoken aloud.
That's one of the tests of good poetry for me--does it sing.
While parts of Alexander's poem did sing, other parts were somewhat clunky. (Not a poetic term, I realize, but it conveys my meaning.)
I remember Robert Frost reciting poetry at JFK's inauguration!
And, I too am glad poetry is again in the public arena. Maybe Billy Collins would have been a better choice.

nina at Nature Remains. said...

I thought much the same thing. And I struggled to follow it, because she seemed to read it so clearly (too clearly?) that it was distracting to me and didn't sound like normal speech.
I guess, as the author, she can choose the style she thinks best suits it, but...

Dog_geek said...

I was disappointed in the Inaugural Poem also, but I guess just about anything would be diappointing after Maya Angelou.

Andrea said...

I love Maya Angelou's her poetry, her books, even in her interviews. Thank you for sharing! :)

Tina said...

I found the way she read her poem to be distracting..and I also did not enjoy her presentation..but I thought the words to her poem nice..

and I think we were spoiled by having Maya's work to reference it to..she is a great poet!

NCmountainwoman said...

Cedar - I have admired Maya for years and have been fortunate enough to hear her read her poetry in person. She is quite a woman.

Science guy - I love some of the modern poets, but I'm also a great fan of the classics.

Carol - I think Alexander is a good poet, but I think there are better ones. I do not know Kathryn Byer, but will look her up.

Fishing guy - And that's all right too. It takes all of us with different tastes to make up this country.

Stacey - I also love Maya's books as well.

Cheryl - The entire poem is definitely worth looking up.

George - Look up "Still I Rise" while you are looking. It is also a favorite of mine.

Betsy - I can't believe you are not a poetry write so well. I share your love of Maya Angelou.

kks - I thought it was lovely as well.

Shelley - I hope you will look up the entire verse. It is beautiful.

Donna - I couldn't agree with you more. You wouldn't believe how often I sit alone in our library reading poetry out loud. When the children were small we had read aloud poems along with story hour.

Nina - I agree with your views of the presentation. Almost as if she were concerned that we might not get it and failed to provide the emotion the poem required.

Dog geek - I am just happy we had a poem, and I do think the poet is better than she appeared on Tuesday. I had seen several interviews and I think my expectations might have been too high.

Andrea - When I prepare the guest list for my "dream" dinner party, Maya Angelou always makes the cut.

Tina - I think you are absolutely right.

The Birdlady said...

Yes, it is very beautiful.

LauraHinNJ said...

There it is, I think. Alexander's poem touched my intellect rather than my heart.

Both have their place in poetry.

I'm so glad you wrote some about this... nice to read other's comments.