The Hill We Climb

by Amanda Gorman

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Last Updated on February 10, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 851

Amanda Gorman's "The Hill We Climb" is very much a poem that defines a moment of change and determination, as its title indicates. The poem itself does not linger on the imagery of hill-climbing, but it does describe the struggle toward a better America as “the hill we climb.” Likewise, it presents recognizing the burden of "repair[ing]" the country as a constituent part of being a proud American.

Gorman's is a poem about a momentous point in history, when the United States is poised on a precipice. Gorman makes the deliberate decision to assert that "destruction" has been narrowly avoided and that America is now standing, however tentatively, on the far side of that precipice. Incredibly hopeful in tone, Gorman's poem argues that if only Americans will "dare" to continue in their upward trajectory, enacting "repair" and resisting the forces that would "shatter'' their nation if allowed to do so, there is a new dawn coming. Hope can prevail.

The poem is filled with imagery of various kinds, but its key concentrations are on ideas of division—words like "repair," "shatter," and "destroy"—and unity, with words and phrases such as "reach out," "tied together," "unity," and "together" being prevalent. Gorman is also keen to present America and the idea of being American as a "birthright," though not one that should make us feel complacently proud. On the contrary, it is up to all Americans to ensure that their "legacy" is not one that will become a "burden" to the next generation. Americans who have lived through the recent period of intense change and division have become the "heirs" of a "terrifying hour." It is thus for us to recognize, at this moment, that it is possible to strive beyond this "catastrophe"—but also that nothing will change unless we recognize that this will require effort.

Gorman underscores this point, and illuminates the fact that we should take heart from it, by alluding to periods in history when America was indeed divided. She notes that she herself is a "Black girl" whose ancestors were slaves, a comment that cannot help but invite the reader to remember the intense division that racism has caused throughout American history. Toward the end of the poem, the reference to the "sun-baked South" further encourages consideration of how divided the Southern states have been in earlier generations, both during the Civil War period and in the years that followed. Yet, Gorman points out, she is able not only to recite her poetry for a president today but has also been able to consider becoming president herself. Although the justice of the modern world may not always be "just," and racial divisions continue to abound, we cannot deny America's potential to change when we consider the position of Amanda Gorman today in comparison to the position of a young Black girl in previous iterations of America.

Throughout the poem, Gorman uses contrast in this way to encourage her readers to take heart and embrace the coming "dawn." She argues that through grief came growth, through hurt came hope, in a section of the poem that commands attention through its use of anaphora, repetition, and alliteration. The short lines in this section—"That even as we grieved, we grew"—make it resonate. There is a change in rhythm here, and the sentences themselves are brief and lacking in any enjambment, making each one its own bold statement. Gorman's language brooks no argument: America has grown, hoped, and tried, and it will now be "victorious." Later, Gorman effectively uses chiasmus, a rhetorical device that featured prominently in the speeches of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., to allude to another period of division and change:

So, while we once asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe, now we assert, how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?

Gorman does not adhere to any formal rhyme scheme, with the almost conversational nature of her poem lending it additional power. Here is a person speaking directly to a nation, the free verse seems to suggest. However, Gorman does utilize rhyme and rhythm changes sparingly to draw attention to points of particular importance. For example, the pararhyme, or half-rhyme, of "inception" with "redemption" builds upon the key idea of the poem: that this is the moment to begin an upward trajectory, with Americans coming together to build "bridges" instead of wielding "blade[s]," and help create a better world for their children to inherit.

The concluding lines of this poem are uplifting and inclusive. The anaphora on "we will rise" may indicate an allusion to Maya Angelou's "Still I Rise," another anthem by a Black American woman encouraging her listeners to embrace their own strength and power and build a more united America. Despite the difficulties America has faced in recent years, Gorman's poem argues, there is room for everyone to be "victorious" in a new iteration of this country that has survived so much. Those from every "beautiful" area of the diverse nation can step together into a new "dawn," if only they are willing to do so.

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