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Elizabeth Alexander Inagural poem. Transcript


ELIZABETH ALEXANDER: Praise song for the day.

Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each other's 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 thyself." 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.


The poem was great. I was so impressed by the words and the message.

Elizabeth Anderson's poem was direct, not pretentious; it fit the occasion--the Obama Inauguration. It praised the heroic work and unwavering faith of Americans, those who worked diligently and succeeded . . . together. Likewise,, Anderson's style was not elitist; it was 'middle-class'. And, it totally com-plemented President Obama's own straight-forward call for collective action, from all Americans.
Anderson's poem mirrored President Obama's own renewed clarion call for renewal and reform; for teamwork and fairplay . . . in order to 'form a more perfect union'. . . together.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on January 20, 2009 2:20 PM.

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