Amanda Gorman, the climate poet for our time

The 22-year old recited a stunning poem at the Inauguration. She's put her heart and words into the climate emergency, too.

We are in a climate emergency. And you were born at just the right moment to help change everything.

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There’s so much to be cautiously hopeful for right now. We now have a president with climate as one of his top priorities. We now have a vice president who is a woman of color. We know that the road ahead won’t be easy, but at last we know that there is a road, and that we are on it. It’s hard to put all that into words.

The most emotional moment of this week’s inauguration, for me at least, was Amanda Gorman’s spoken word performance on the steps of the Capitol.

It was honest, challenging, empowering, and simply breathtaking. You can watch the whole thing here:

Gorman grew up in Los Angeles, a 22-year old “skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother”, in her words. She began writing poetry at age 5. As a teenager, she dreamed of someday being president herself. She put the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat to help her overcome a speech impediment.

And she cares a lot about the climate emergency.

“Being able to communicate, not just the science and the facts,” she told Rolling Stone, “but also the artistry and the humanity — it gets to people in a way that I think is unique, to try to get people not to feel scared but to feel prepared to become agents of change.” 

Her poem on Wednesday, “The Hill We Climb”, was written about this month’s attack on the Capitol, the legacy of struggle and hardship embedded in our country’s history, and the constant work of refreshing and repairing that we are all called to take part in as citizens. But it could definitely be read as a poem about climate change, too – specifically, the necessity of each of us as being an active part of the web of solutions that will become a better world.

Especially these lines:

This is the era of just redemption.

We feared it 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.

So, while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?

Now we assert, how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?

This is our time to organize, to join together, to demand our leaders not squander this moment. Because, as Gorman writes:

We know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation.

Our blunders become their burdens.

This rootedness in the flaws of history, this acceptance of the immensity of the task ahead of us, the inconceivability of giving up at a moment so important, that’s what defines this moment in time.

Being American is more than a pride we inherit.

It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.

Gorman has written other poems specifically about climate change – one about hurricanes called “In the Eye Of”. In her role as national youth poet laureate, she also helped organize a nationwide climate-themed poetry contest.

Her poem “Earthrise”, an ode to planet Earth, was dedicated to Al Gore and inspired by that famous photo from Apollo astronauts orbiting the moon and taken on Christmas Eve, 1968, at the end of a year upheaval and racial tensions.

In it, she writes a line that is truly inspired: “Pale blue dot, we will fail you not.”

Together with her poem on Inauguration Day, I think it’s the perfect push I needed to understand truly how important this moment is, and my place in it.

Within hours of her performance on Inauguration Day, Amanda Gorman’s forthcoming book of poetry soared to number 1 on the bestseller list. You can pre-order it here.


Full text of “The Hill We Climb”

written and recited by Amanda Gorman

January 20, 2021

Washington, D.C.

Mr. President, Dr. Biden, Madam Vice President, Mr. Emhoff, Americans and the world:

When day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?

The loss we carry.

A sea we must wade.

We braved the belly of the beast.

We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace.

And the norms and notions of what just is

isn’t always justice.

And yet, the dawn is ours before we knew it.

Somehow we do it.

Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed

a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.

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.

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 our Union with purpose.

To compose a country committed to all cultures,

colors,

characters,

and conditions of man.

And so we lift our gaze not to what stands between us,

but what stands before us.

We close the divide because we know to put our future first,

we must first put our differences aside.

We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.

We seek harm to none and harmony for all.

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

that we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.

Not because we will never again know defeat,

but because we will never again sow division.

Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.

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, the hill we climb, if only we dare.

It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit.

It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.

We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it.

Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.

And this effort very nearly succeeded.

But while democracy can be periodically delayed,

it can never be permanently defeated.

In this truth, in this faith we trust

for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.

This is the era of just redemption.

We feared it 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.

So, while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?

Now we assert, how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?

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.

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.

Our blunders become their burdens.

But one thing is certain: if we merge mercy with might and might with right,

then love becomes our legacy

and change our children’s birthright.

So let us leave behind a country better than one we were left with.

Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest

we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.

We will rise from the golden hills of the West.

We will rise from the wind-swept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution.

We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states.

We will rise from the sun-baked South.

We will rebuild, reconcile and recover.

And every known nook of our nation, and every corner called our country our people diverse and beautiful will emerge battered and beautiful.

When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid.

The new dawn balloons 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.