Inaugural Poems – Messages of Diversity, Unity and Hope

One President, two Inaugurations, two poems and two messages of hope.

Elizabeth Alexander‘s “Praise Song for the Day,” her 2008 Inaugural poem.

At President Obama’s first Inauguration, Elizabeth Alexander spoke of differences and individuality; she praised ethnicity, work, the arts, struggle and “the names of the dead who brought us here.” Her paean ended by praising love – a pure love encompassing and yet beyond family, nation, spouse. And it pointed toward unbounded optimism, a path of  infinite possibility, cloaked in the light of that love. Alexander delivered her poem without emphasis or stress, each line sounding equal to the one before it and the one that followed it.


Richard Blanco reciting his inauguration poem, “One Today.”

Richard Blanco gave us a poem enriched with Whitmasesque imagery, enunciating distinct places, occupations, languages. His is a “simple truth” for the “millions of faces” under one sun and one moon. Within his lines emerge recurring images of children: yellow school buses, playgrounds, swing sets and “the impossible vocabulary of sorrow,” a reminder of Sandy Hook. Like Alexander, his words weave in the struggles of those who came before, mentioning his own mother and father, and in honor of Martin Luther King, the “I Have a Dream we all keep dreaming.” Blanco concludes in a circular manner, pointing again toward the heavens, and like his predecessor, emphasizes optimism, a joint movement toward “hope – a new constellation / waiting for us to map it / waiting for us to name it – together.”

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