"The Hill We Climb" Summary

The Hill We Climb” is a free verse poem by Amanda Gorman, written for and recited at the 2021 American presidential inauguration.

  • The poem’s speaker, a “skinny Black girl descended from slaves” who is now reciting poetry for the president, acknowledges that America is emerging into a hopeful new era.
  • Americans, the speaker asserts, must come together to heal the nation’s wounds, embrace diversity, preserve democracy, and “prevail over catastrophe.”
  • The speaker declares that Americans will “rise” from every region of the country, and step from darkness into light, in order to build a better nation.

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Last Updated on February 10, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 660

"The Hill We Climb" is a poem that was delivered publicly at the inauguration of Joseph Biden, the forty-sixth president of the United States, in January 2021. In delivering the poem, Amanda Gorman became the youngest poet to read at a presidential inauguration and declared a hope that her poem would represent a "moment of unity" for America. All of Gorman's work touches on themes of race, division, and the hope of unity, particularly resonant themes during this particular inauguration.

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The poem itself is in free verse and reflects Gorman's statement on unity through its conversational expression of hope for a better America. The speaker asks where light can be found in the "never-ending" shade of current affairs, in which justice is not always fair and "quiet isn't always peace." The tone of the poem, however, suggests that light, "dawn," is indeed there to be found: the American nation is "unfinished" but not defeated.

The speaker applauds the fact that a "skinny Black girl" can today recite poetry for a president and even dream of becoming one, despite being a descendant of slaves. She argues that while the United States is not a "polished" or perfect nation, there is “purpose” in the struggle to continue to "compose" a country committed to people of all "cultures, colors, characters and conditions."

The speaker goes on to declare that “arms,” or weapons, are now being laid down so that we can “reach out our arms” to each other. She appeals to the world to recognize that growth has come through grief, hope has come through hurt, and division will never again be sown as it has been in this period. Because we have known so much division, we have inherited the burden of preventing it from ever again returning at such a level: "bridges" should be what unite us in the future, rather than the "blade" that has characterized recent American history.

The speaker goes on to describe the inherited pride of being American, which requires true Americans to repair the nation when they see forces that seem poised to “destroy” it. She declares that democracy can never be "permanently defeated" and that we must place our trust in this knowledge.

The new era, the speaker declares, makes us "the heirs of . . . a terrifying hour." This offers an opportunity to "prevail over catastrophe" and continue moving forward, healing the "bruised" country. The speaker declares that she and her listeners will never be set back by intimidation, because they recognize that what is happening now will have a direct impact on the next generation. If the current generation "blunders," this will result in new burdens for the next generation of young people to shoulder. In order to provide the sort of "birthright" for our children that we would wish, we must ensure that "mercy" prevails and a legacy of love and change is encouraged, in order for the country that survives us to be better than the one we inherited ourselves.

At the end of the poem, the speaker appeals to her audience with anaphoric "we will'' statements, declaring that "we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one." She describes, throughout these statements, the many diverse areas of the United States and their histories, including the Northeast, where "revolution" was first conceived of by the Founding Fathers of the nation, and the "lake-rimmed cities" of the Midwest, an allusion to the Great Lakes region. She also alludes to the "sun-baked South," itself the site of division during the Civil War. The speaker recognizes that the people of the United States are incredibly diverse and also declares that they are beautiful, repeating the word twice for emphasis.

Finally, the speaker declares that the new dawn emerging is one that will "free" us. Eventually, we will be able to step out into it and into the light that is always there—"if only we're brave enough” not only to see it, but to “be it.”

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