Analyzing The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman

Amanda Gorman reciting her poem, The Hill We Climb, at President Biden’s inauguration. Photo by the New York Times

Amanda Gorman reciting her poem, The Hill We Climb, at President Biden’s inauguration. Photo by the New York Times

Emma Harley, Staff Writer

Amanda Gorman, the inaugural poet, stood on the capitol steps on January 20, 2021, sharing a vision of unity and hope with the country. Just weeks before, rioters had climbed the very same steps, criticizing the democracy of the country. Gorman provides a strong perspective throughout her poem, ‘The Hill We Climb,’ as a black artist living through the Black Lives Matter movement and the insurrection.

Her poem, “The Hill We Climb” encapsulates the necessity of unification throughout America. Her words speak to the future, while reflecting on the past, and urge the country to unite for a common purpose. “When I heard her poem I felt inspired, it’s so beautifully written. I also felt like I was witnessing a very important historical moment,” said Lara Coady, ‘22, the president of HB’s Young Democrats Club, “her words would ideally bring hope to kids for unity, for change, for a better future.” 

The poem speaks to the work America must accomplish but how far the country has come, hence the fitting title, “The Hill We Climb”. “It’s not saying we’ve arrived, it’s saying this is the work in front of us and it’s hard. This isn’t a tiny hill, this is a mountain, but it’s doable,” said Lin Illingworth, an English teacher at Hollis Brookline.

Others criticize her piece for being too plain and missing many literary elements that create a poem. “What we witnessed on Wednesday was a poem so determined to make a concrete moral statement that it gave way into what much more closely resembles a banal political address, platitudes and all, with inflected speech and a sprinkle of distasteful rhyming as its only literary signifiers,” said Evan Leonhard, a Philosophy and English major at Louisiana State University, in his opinion piece on the inaugural poem (Reville). Some found the poem rather divisive for a poem on unity. “I found some of it ok and some of it to be a bit too focused on placing blame and creating victims in a way that delegitimizes the existing victims in the world,” said Claudia Pack, ‘22, a student at Hollis Brookline. Others find Gorman’s poem empowering. “I actually think it’s the best inaugural poem I’ve ever heard, except for Robert Frost,” said Illingworth. Illingworth said that Gorman’s poem challenged the classical standard, because slam poetry has its roots in the rap movement. “Here she is in the white house, the highest station in the land, celebrating cultural elements,” said Illingworth, “We have ‘The Road Less Traveled’, now we have ‘The Hill We Climb’. That’s a heck of a metaphor.”

“The Hill We Climb” brings light to America’s changing purpose, and what we have in common. “And so we lift our gaze, not to what stands between us, but what stands before us,” recited Gorman in “The Hill We Climb”. A powerful statement in regards to the riots and protests that occurred just prior to the inauguration. The picture she paints for Americans gives purpose to keep working on our country and uphold the constitutional promise to “to form a more perfect union.” America’s purpose may change throughout history, but the commitment to keep improving remains consistent, and Gorman’s poem is a reminder of that obligation. “The classic American dream is the dream that someone can come to the US, become a citizen, and then have the opportunity to make a sufficient and fulfilling life from just that. The one she outlines is more of a collective opportunity than an individual. She discusses repairing issues with equality and creating more accessible ways to be a proud part of the American community,” said Pack, ‘22. Throughout her poem Gorman exemplifies the need for our country to put aside our differences and work together to benefit all Americans. “I think we’ve forgotten civility. What makes the bridge in the middle is civility and I believe we are trapped into either/or soundbites… you know, there are so many antis and pros, and such division, and it’s so polarized. I think her intent was to say these two polarities must talk to each other,” said Illingworth. 

Gorman recites in her poem that “We are striving to forge our union with purpose. To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man,” This is a purpose that can be applied to all parties and all people. “She’s saying that America’s purpose should be to serve all people; the country should be dedicated to helping people and people dedicated to helping each other,” said Coady, ‘22.

Amanda Gorman was the first, National Youth Poet Laureate. To read “The Hill We Climb” visit CNBC’s article. To learn more about Amanda Gorman’s work check out her website