Watch poet Amanda Gorman's stirring Inauguration Day reading
"There is always a light, if only we're brave enough to see it. If only we're brave enough to be it."
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"History has its eyes on us." Amanda Gorman, former US youth poet laureate, read her poem The Hill We Climb during Wednesday's inaugural ceremonies, evoking powerful messages of hope and unity as President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris were sworn in.
The Hill We Climb reads, in part: "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."
Only a few poets have performed at previous US inaugurations. Former US presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy are the only presidents who had poems read at their swearing-in ceremonies.
In 2017, the Los Angeles-based Gorman was the first to be named national youth poet laureate. Now 22, she's also the youngest inaugural poet in US history. She's an award-winning writer and cum laude graduate of Harvard University, who's written for The New York Times and has two upcoming books.
Gorman also celebrated diversity in her poem: "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 be reciting for one."
When writing The Hill We Climb, Gorman says she reviewed speeches by US President Abraham Lincoln, abolitionist Frederick Douglass and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., but also was inspired by poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou.
Gorman was inspired as well by the Tony Award-winning hip-hop musical Hamilton, a modern retelling of US founding father Alexander Hamilton's journey created by composer, playwright, performer and producer Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Miranda himself even tweeted a special message to Gorman: "You were perfect. Perfectly written, perfectly delivered. Every bit of it. Brava!"
Hamilton has special meaning for Gorman, who overcame a speech impediment by practicing the Hamilton song Aaron Burr, Sir, because it has so many Rs.
"My favorite thing to practice was the song Aaron Burr, Sir, from Hamilton because it is jam-packed with R's," Gorman told CBS News. "And I said, 'If I can keep up with Leslie in this track, then I am on my way to being able to say this R in a poem.'"
On a more somber note, Gorman revealed in an interview that she was compelled to address in her poem that pro-Trump rioters with weapons and Confederate flags stormed the halls of Congress on Jan. 6.
"In my poem, I'm not going to in any way gloss over what we've seen over the past few weeks and, dare I say, the past few years," Gorman told The New York Times on Tuesday. "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. It's doing that in a way that is not erasing or neglecting the harsh truths I think America needs to reconcile with."
As expected, social media buzzed with reactions to Gorman and her powerful poem.
Wrote one, "How have I missed listening to poetry from this beautiful human all these years?"
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