President Biden is the fourth president to have had a poem read at their inauguration—and at 22, Amanda Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet ever. Gorman, who became America's first National Youth Poet Laureate in 2017, read new work "The Hill We Climb," which she completed after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. She tells the New York Times that she was about halfway through the poem on the day of the attack, and stayed up late that night to finish it, adding verses including:
- "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."
Gorman says that before the riot, the task of writing a poem for the historic occasion seemed overwhelming and she had only been managing to complete a few lines a day. "It was like, if I try to climb this mountain all at once, I’m just going to pass out," she says. In the five-minute poem, she called for "unity and togetherness," asking in the opening line: "When day comes, we ask ourselves where can we find light in this never-ending shade?" She says she wanted to bring the country together without "glossing over" the events of recent weeks. "I think it's about a new chapter in the United States, about the future, and doing that through the elegance and beauty of words," she tells the BBC. Gorman follows in the footsteps of poets including Robert Frost, who read a poem at John F. Kennedy's 1961 inauguration. A full transcript of Gorman's poem can be seen here. (Read more Inauguration Day stories.)