Amanda Gorman’s Inauguration Poem Commentary By My Long-time Friend Sam Horn
Sam Horn is a renowned communication consultant, author, and professional speaker.
If you will take the time to read Sam Horn’s line-by-line commentary, you will discover that added riches reside in Gorman’s poem.
In our speed reading culture, we do not often take time to ponder and savor words, let alone appreciate how much care and skill goes into a poetic meditation like Amanda Gorman’s.
“I was standing in my back yard under the live oak trees, crying, because you know greatness when you hear it, and you know you’re part of history when you experience it.
As Amanda Gorman commanded the world stage and delivered this profound poem, I felt so blessed by her grace, power and vision, I wanted to analyze her incredible craft and dissect what she did to make this an instant classic (in addition to her brilliance).
So, here we go …
Kudos to 23 year old Amanda Gorman for designing and delivering an inaugural poem that will be studied in classrooms for decades to come.
It was a shining example of Orastory – which is when words and ideas are crafted so eloquently, they become transcendent spoken art that elevates us and inspires us to come together and be better.
You might want to first watch the video so you can hear her poem in its entirety and get swept up in its flow.
Then, I analyze it with side notes (in parentheses) to showcase what made this so timely and timeless, so empowering and impactful.
1. “When the day comes, we ask ourselves, (She jumps right in with the word WE and with a Socratic question that creates a collective voice.)
2. where can we find light in this never-ending shade? The loss we carry, a sea we must wade. (Note the careful choice of alliterative one-syllable words LIGHT and LOSS. The rhyme of SHADE and WADE. We are 4 sentences into this and we already feel pulled into the harmonic resonance of her words).
3. We’ve braved the belly of the beast. (7 words, three of them alliterative that make this POP! Plus, the inclusive word WE’VE. She distilled months/years of conflict into a single, succinct sentence.)
4. We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace (Instant meme. Profound wisdom.)
5. And the norms and notions of what just is, Isn’t always just-ice. (An original insight in a sublimely crafted sentence where every word tells. Strunk and White would be proud.)
6. And yet the dawn is ours, before we knew it, Somehow we do it. (Referenced the dark in the sentences before and now switches the tone to hope and resolve.)
7. Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed, a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished. (Alliterative distinctive verbs, and a reframing of broken (who wants that?) to unfinished (okay, we can live with that.)
8. We the successors of a country and a time, Where a skinny Black girl, descended from slaves and raised by a single mother, can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one. (Puts herself in the story and gives relevant historical perspective … with a twist at the end that comes with a smile.)
9. And yes we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect, We are striving to forge a union with purpose. (Acknowledges the challenges and then reframes them into something that is realistic, not idealistic.)
10. To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man. (A visionary sentence that deserves to be our mantra and motto.)
11. And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us. (Pays homage to John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” In one sentence she shifts us from conflict to cooperation.)
12. We close the divide because we know, to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside. (Deliberate replication of the word FIRST sets up the sequenced options.)
13. “We lay down our arms, so we can reach out our arms to one another. (What a lovely and powerful contrasting usage of ARMS.)
14. “We seek harm to none and harmony for all. (Look at how she distills a mantra into a 9 word statement of intent that is universally relevant.)
15. Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: That even as we grieved, we grew, That even as we hurt, we hoped, that even as we tired, we tried. (The use of the word GLOBE makes this international not just national. We are immersed in her waterfall of words.)
16. That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious. Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division. (The rhyming verbs KNOW and SOW and the juxtaposed words of DEFEAT and DIVISON elevate this into an extraordinary anthem.)
17. Scripture tells us to envision, that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree. And no one shall make them afraid. (The words VINE and FIG TREE made her verbals visual so we see what she’s saying.)
18. If we’re to live up to our own time, Then victory won’t lie in the blade, But in all the bridges we’ve made, That is the promise to glade. (She is BOOK-ENDING her talk by using words that rhyme with SHADE that circle back to her opening. Comedians call this a call-back and it reinforces and imprints what you’ve said.)
19. The hill we climb, If only we dare. (Aaahh, here’s her title. Ala Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I’ve been to the mountain top” and his vision of “little black boys and girls holding hands with little white boys and girls” which indicates there’s still work to do.)
20. It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit, it’s the past we step into, and how we repair it. (Alliteration of PRIDE and PAST and subtle rhyming of INHERIT and REPAIR IT turn this into a CADENCE that sweeps us up in its musicality. When you put words in a beat, you make them easy to repeat.)
21. We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation, rather than share it, Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy, (She is saying a LOT in a LITTLE because her contrasting verbs SHATTER and SHARE and active verbs DESTROY and DELAY condense what others would take pages to say.)
22. And this effort very nearly succeeded, But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated. (Intentional repetition of word DELAY now compared to DEFEAT. She is creating continuity and progression.)
23. In this truth, in this faith we trust. (She’s echoing the Declaration of Independence.)
24. For while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us. (This reversal has us see both sides of the coin of time.)
25. This is the era of just redemption, We feared at its inception, We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour, but within it we found the power, to author a new chapter, To offer hope and laughter to ourselves. (Feel the transition from dark to light – from terror to hope and laughter?)
26. So while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe? (She’s book-ending again by repeating WE ASKED from her opening which helps all this “hang” together.)
27. Now we assert, How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us? (This is subtle – however the POSSIBLY following the CATASTROPHE is a rhyming rhythm that rolls off our tongue and makes this melodic.)
28. We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be, A country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free. (This is a galvanizing “power of three” that calls us up instead of calls us out.)
29. We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation, because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation. (Rhymes don’t always END with the same sound – they sometimes START with the same sound as in INtimidation, INaction, INertia, INheritance.)
30. Our blunders become their burdens, But one thing is certain: (These five words – But one thing is certain – build suspense and make us eager to know what’s next).
31. If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy, and change our children’s birthright. (Do you feel her words gathering force? She is ramping up for her wrap up.)
32. So let us leave behind a country, better than the one we were left with. (Ha ha. She’s riffing off Smokey the Bear… leave your camp spot better than you found it.🙂
33. “Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one, We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the west, we will rise from the windswept northeast. (Want to RAISE people up? Use the words you want people to feel.)
34. where our forefathers first realized revolution, We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states, we will rise from the sunbaked south. (What precise picturesque adjectives – LAKE-RIMMED, SUNBAKED.)
35. We will rebuild, reconcile and recover. (Classic “power of three” repetition and rhythm, yet each of these three words has a different meaning that builds on the other.)
36. and every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, (Literally and figuratively bringing the the parts of our country together in unity).
37. our people diverse and beautiful will emerge, battered and beautiful (She Elmore Leonard’s this – “I leave out the parts people skip” – because she covers the spectrum without a wasted word.)
38. When day comes we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid. (There’s SHADE again, tying it all together. She could have used a more common phrase “on fire” (yawn) and instead used the evocative, uncommon word AFLAME.)
39. The new dawn blooms as we free it, For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it, If only we’re brave enough to be it. (The dawn doesn’t come, as she says, it BLOOMS. If only we’re brave enough to see and be the light. Repeatable and retweetable. And she pays homage to Lin Manuel Miranda’s rap musical Hamilton – which she recited to overcome a speech impediment).
In a New York Times interview, Gorman said her goal was to “craft a poem that was both hopeful and realistic, one that reflected the political divisions that have fractured the country, but also the promise of greater unity.
I’m not going to, in any way, gloss over what we’ve seen over the past few weeks. But what I really aspire to do in the poem is to be able to use my words to envision a way in which our country can still come together and can still heal.”
Amanda, you accomplished your goal. Thank you for gifting us with this “rising tide” poem, and may we all heed your eloquent words and elegant example and come together in unity.