Maya Angelou recites her poem “On The Pulse of Morning” at the 1993 inauguration of President William J. Clinton. On this day we celebrate Maya Angelou’s birthday.
Mr. President and Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Vice President and Mrs. Gore, and Americans everywhere, a rock, a river, a tree hosts to species long since departed marked the mastodon, the dinosaur, who left dry tokens of their sojourn here on our planet floor. Any broad alarm on their hastening doom is lost in the gloom of dust and ages. But today, the rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully– come. You may stand up on my back and face your distant destiny. But seek no haven in my shadow. I will give you no hiding place down here. You, created only a little lower than the angels, have crouched too long in the bruising darkness, have lain too long face down in ignorance, your mouths spilling words armed for slaughter.
The rock cries out to us today, you may stand upon me, but do not hide your face. Across the wall of the world, a river sings a beautiful song. It says, come, rest here by my side. Each of you, a bordered country, delicate and strangely made, proud, yet thrusting perpetually under siege. Your armed struggles for profit have left colors of waste upon my shore, currents of debris upon my breast. Yet, today, I call you to my riverside if you will study war no more. Come clad in peace. And I will sing the songs the creator gave to me when I and the tree and the rock were one before cynicism was a bloody seer across your brow. And when you yet knew, you still knew nothing. The river sang and sings on.
There is a true yearning to respond to the singing river and the wise rock, so say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew, the African, the Native American, the Sioux, the Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek, the Irish, the rabbi, the priest, the sheikh, the gay, the straight, the preacher, the privileged, the homeless, the teacher– they all hear the speaking of the tree. They hear the first and last of every tree speak to humankind today. Come to me here beside the river. Plant yourself beside the river. Each of you, descendant of some passed on traveler, has been paid for. You, who gave me my first name, you, Pawnee, Apache, Seneca, you, Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then forced on bloody feet left me to the employment of other seekers desperate for gain, starving for gold. You, the Turk, the Arab, the Swede, the German, the Eskimo, the Scot, you the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought, sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare, praying for a dream, here, root yourselves beside me. I am that tree planted by the river which will not be moved.
I, the rock, I, the river, I, the tree, I am yours. Your passages have been paid. Lift up your faces. You have a piercing need for this bright morning dawning for you. History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again. Lift up your eyes upon this day breaking for you. Give birth again to the dream. Women, children, men, take it into the palms of your hands. Mold it into the shape of your most private need, sculpt it into the image of your most public self. Lift up your hearts. Each new hour holds new chances for new beginnings. Do not be wedded forever to fear, yoked eternally to brutishness.
The horizon leans forward, offering you space to place new steps of change. Here, on the pulse of this fine day, you may have the courage to look up and out and upon me the rock, the river, the tree, your country– no less to Midas than the mendicant, no less to you now than the mastodon then. Here, on the pulse of this new day, you may have the grace to look up and out and into your sister’s eyes and into your brother’s face, your country, and say, simply, very simply, with hope– good morning. [cheers and applause]