Praise Song for the Day

Congressional Quarterly has a transcript of the inaugural poem written and read by Elizabeth Alexander.

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 consider 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.

Comments (5)

Apparently the NY Times critics have already trashed her. I thought that a) it was just fine for the occasion; she was writing for everyone, not just or primarily for the literary critics, for goodness' sake and b) they put her in the toughest spot! Following the President was tough. The poem would have been better placed earlier. But as one of my clergy friends said, they didn't have a liturgist doing the planning...

I liked it very much. Just these two sentences were worth the price of admission:

Say it plain, that many have died for this day.

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.

I watched the inaugural with my family, and we certainly were fed by the poem.

I liked it fine, in that setting -- and was told it was shallow. I don't know, maybe so am I, but it worked for me.

Glad to have this space to say this.

Jan Adams

I heard echoes of Eleanor Farjeon's "Morning has Broken", and also believe the poem honors our participation in the act of creation. I guess you can tell that I thought it was quite wonderful!

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