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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inaugural Poem

I know nothing about politics, so it wasn't until I watched an episode of The West Wing that I realized there was such a thing as an "inaugural poem" .... for instance, for JFK's inauguration, Robert Frost wrote a new poem entitled Dedication but he couldn't see well enough to read the words, so instead he recited another of his poems from memory, The Gift Outright .......

The land was ours before we were the land's.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia.
But we were England's, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak.
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become.

Maya Angelou wrote the poem for Bill Clinton's inauguration. Here's a YouTube of her reading it ...

The person chosen to read the inaugural poem for Barack Obama was Elizabeth Alexander, a professor of African-American studies at Yale University and a personal friend of the Obama family. Here's the text of her poem ....

Praise song for the day

Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others' eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues. Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky; A teacher says, "Take out your pencils. Begin."

We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said, "I need to see what's on the other side; I know there's something better down the road."

We need to find a place where we are safe; We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign; The figuring it out at kitchen tables.

Some live by "Love thy neighbor as thy self."

Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.

What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp -- praise song for walking forward in that light.


Blogger Mark said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:07 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Some religious conservatives do feel that way. But I'm pro-choice.

6:19 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Good for you. But your (my church?) says Obama favors child killing, do they not?

I know this is a"tired" issue, but the hierarchy's abandonment of almost all social justice issues, in favor of one; a position clearly taken to preserve their power is revolting.

I am quite aware that many bloggers will not discuss this issue---too controversial. But the desire of the catholic hierarchy to protect their position by throwing the 'mob' raw meat needs to be discussed. The real question is "Who is the Church?" The celibate, anti sexual clergy, or the laity.

A quote. 'There is nothing wrong with celibacy, but to use celibacy to dominant others is wrong.'

I am stunned that many cannot see the connection between the Church's anti-sexual attitude and its position that all sex must be open to the possibility of pregnancy.

6:38 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

I think people don't want to discuss abortion because eceryone has strong feelings about it, feelings that are not very changeable, so discussion seems pointless.

9:15 PM  
Blogger Mark said...


I disagree. The overwhelming majority favor a middle ground---not just because it is a middle ground but because it is the right ground. The one cell is a "person" and the "It's my body, so I can do anything" are small minorities. But these two extremes have taken over the discussion. Reason has been dumped for ideological purity and fear of the slippery slope. Jack

8:47 AM  
Blogger cowboyangel said...

Ah, yes the Inaugural poem. A very difficult task. I can't say any of the three poems really knock me out. Though at least Maya Angelou read hers fairly well, even if she went on too long.

My wife knows Elizabeth Alexander's work and says it's pretty good, but even she was a bit disappointed.

I think Obama should've asked Yusef Komunyaka. An African-American, a Vietnam vet, and a highly regarded poet.

Jon Stewart managed to make fun of both Alexander and Maya Angelou last night on his show.

But, hey, at least Obama had a poet! That's great.

9:16 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Jack, maybe I'm wrong, but I think most people have an opinion about abortion and that it's hard to change that opinion, whatever it may be, so discussion is more argument than a meeting of the minds.

10:48 AM  
Blogger crystal said...


I wonder how the poet gets picked? I'd try to resurrect Swinburne :)

10:49 AM  
Blogger Mark said...


I'll drop it for the time. But I think MOST people are closer than you think. It is the two extremes who poison the discussion. The extremes have to have it their way or nothing. Jack

10:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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1:24 AM  

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