Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Forward in That Light

I have never watched an inauguration with the eagerness or rapt attention I felt today, so comparisons are difficult to make, but I rejoice at the inclusion of such moving and powerful music and poetry during the ceremony. I am delighted with Elizabeth Alexander's delicious poem "Praise Song for the Day."

Jay Parini wrote last week in the Guardian, "The choice of Alexander to read is brilliant. She represents black American culture, but she says to the audience: 'We're here, and we're very smart and well-educated, fully aware of western European culture in all its complexity; yet we retain an allegiance to our own past, our roots, our needs, our vision.'"

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. . . .

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? . . .

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,
praise song for walking forward in that light.

We are indeed walking forward in that light, hopeful, nervous, cautious, and jubilant. I have never in my life seen us so overjoyed or so united. If we can hold fast this new sense of ourselves and our potential, then maybe we really can remake America while reclaiming the best heritage of the founders.

Alexander's poem perfectly catches the juxtaposition of everydayness and history, of the ordinary and extraordinary, commonality and diversity—all that has gone into the making of this amazing day.

The beauty and diversity of our extraordinary national moment was further enhanced by the performance of "Air and Simple Gifts," arranged for the inauguration by John Williams and performed by Itzhak Perlman on the violin, Anthony McGill on the clarinet, Yo-Yo Ma on the cello, and Gabriela Montero on the piano. The diversity of the musicians represented here is so amazing all by itself, and the music was extraordinarily beautiful, exquisite in form and execution and resonating perfectly with the tone of the day. As I listened, I imagined music teachers all across the country rejoicing in their hearts.

(Aretha Franklin's extraordinary performance of "America" was so thrilling that I have to post about it separately.)

And finally, one of the many lines that gave me goosebumps during President Obama's speech was this one: "We will restore science to its rightful place." Wow. Knock me over with a feather. Science is back in vogue. Now I'm imagining science teachers across the country breathing a great collective sigh of relief.

I expect many of us were breathing various individual and collective sighs of relief throughout the day all over the country, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one crying, bawling, sniffling. This is a day we will long remember, a precious, joyous day. May all that we actually accomplish in the next four years bear out the hope burning in our hearts. May there be a new flourishing of poetry, music, and science that points back to this day, this day in which we walk "forward in that light."


  1. Here is my sigh of relief. Ahhhhh........

    And I thought the poem was wonderful too.
    Nice post.

  2. Altogether now: Ahhhh....

    Doesn't that feel good?!!

    Thank you, Diana! :D

  3. It`s a happy day for all humanity. Here in Chile too. Hope all turns out as we dream it will. Peace, collaboration, end of oil dependence, social justice, and Bush in jail.

  4. !Gracias, Matias! We definitely have the feeling that the eyes of the world are upon us. Victor Navasky describes Obama as "a liberal wolf in centrist sheep's clothing." (http://tinyurl.com/dgwkqd) Hope is shining brighter all the time.

  5. I wrote an oratory to this composition. obama.ebonyspectrum.com