Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"Praise Song for the Day" by Elizabeth Alexander (video & text)

UPDATE: BlogHer.com has detailed analysis of this poem at this link, click. The writer makes a good case that many of the early MSM critics who gave the poem bad reviews don't know what they're talking about.

And here is the full text:
Praise Song for the Day
By Elizabeth Alexander
(Recited by the poet at the Inauguration of the 44th President of the United States of America, Barack H. Obama. Text from Graywolf Press via the New York Times)

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
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 considers 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 some one 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 thyself,
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 pre-empt grievance.

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.
Originally I had the poem's transcribed text, which I found at NowPublic.com. However, I replaced that with text provided by Graywolf Press as published at NYT because it's important to see the poem as the poet intended with her line breaks. The poem is also posted now at poets.org. (Para updated 1/22/09)

For weeks I've anticipated pleasure at hearing Alexander's Inauguration Day poem. It was worth the wait. I liked the phrase "Words spiny or smooth," to mention one of many. "Praise Song for the Day" was moving and straight forward. She uses beautiful plain talk, and I like her other work as well, especially the poem "Blues", which you may read at Poets.org.

Today, with millions of my fellow Americans, I have been smiling, laughing, reflecting, weeping. I've flipped from states of astonishment to what seems like an eternal holding of breath. I've blown up with pride, looking at the beautiful Obama family--Barack, Michelle, Malia and Sasha. Today is one long, sacred journey of joy, marred only by the collapse of Senators Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd, but with the nation I pray for them.

Watching, I also wonder how many Secret Service agents will go home tonight and pass out before undressing. Their kind of stress could knock a person into an out-of-body experience. But they're hired to be calm, not have their hearts in their mouths like I did when the first African-American President of the United States and the First Lady climbed from the presidential limo to walk the parade route.

On a more personal note, I pray that my 78-year-old aunt who went with friends to the Inauguration is still having fun, that her health's holding up, and she has the energy to go to another party tonight. Last night she called her daughter and said, "I'm having the best time of my life!" At 78? What a wonder!

Catch more coverage online at CNN and NPR. Pretty much anywhere you point your cursor online today, you'll find some kind of inauguration coverage.

You can read it, listen to audio, scrutinize aerial photos and hear views from people like you, or watch more video such as the one below of Air and Simple Gifts, the piece John Williams composed for the Inauguration, performed by violinist Itzhak Perlman, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, clarinetist Anthony McGill, pianist Gabriela Montero.

In addition, read the transcript of President Obama's address at this link or watch him speak at CNN. He has more than a way with words, he has the gift to inspire, and that comes from within the soul.

If I had time to add more video, I would add Rev. Rick Warren's invocation and Rev. Joseph Lowery's benediction. Warren worked on being inclusive. His prayer moved me. Lowery's use of "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" was brilliant and drawing in old rhymes for racial inclusion at the end left us grinning.

I'm happy the Inauguration used a poet. I think President Obama understands the contribution of the poets' voice in the nation, which was the point of William Faulkner's words quoted by Forest Whitaker during the Lincoln monument concert Sunday.

And if you're a poet who understands the power poetry has to change hearts or if you're another style of writer who's celebrating new hope for this nation and the world, I hope you will participate in Baracku on Twitter. The project is evolving as is the world.


Anonymous said...

Nordette, so glad to see the text of the poem. My favorite line is
"In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun."

Thanks for going to the effort of getting it posted. I've been looking for it all day.

Vérité Parlant said...

I thought it was an excellent poem. I'm surprised by the people saying it was awful, but I also consider the source of the complaints. :-)

Thanks for commenting.

Blue State Cowgirl said...

I'm surprised by all the negative response to this poem. I thought it was wonderful and so appropriate for an election that was won by a former community organizer and funded by millions of small donations by average people. Rather than exhaulting lofty things, she focussed on the average people and their work-a-day lives, the ones who really initiated and carried through this "change".

But again, many people cling to their elementary school ideas of poems: they have to rhyme, they have to have da-dump-da-dum-da-dum-da-dum iambic pentameter rhythm and they should be declaimed in a loud, theatrical voice. The delivery had nothing to do with the value of the poem. Few poets, like Angelou, are also actors. Ever heard recordings of Robert Frost reading his poems?