Below is Richard Blanco’s poem written for the second inauguration of Obama with my comments in italics after each of the nine stanzas.
One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving across windows.
S1 – The start of the day from the outside determined by the sun and ‘kindled’ is an appropriate word for the sun is fire and you could consider dawn as the breaking of fire on the world … links nicely in the second line with the Smokies (I take it these are mountains with this name). The sun is simple and true – at least from most peoples perspective (unless you are a studier of sunspots) … truth and plain link nicely … and light can suddenly charge across landscape even such rugged mountains as the Rockies … and it does of course wakeup the world – the roof top world that is open to light … and then the reflection coming down to what cannot be clearly seen – to the people within that silently move … seen only as blurred shapes from the outside – gestures (a movement of part of the body to express meaning) … but each person has a story – a hidden story akin to being hidden from the light of the sun. Herein lies the theme that of oneness and of being inclusive.
My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper —
bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives —
to teach geometry, or ring up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem for all of us today.
S2 … movement to specific detail to personal lives as though the sun can now pierce into this world … the common routines … the increase in momentum – crescendo … and now we see such detailed specific colours as the rainbow of different fruits … people are not merely gestures they are now in action – with a personal reflection on the occupation of RB’s mother for many years and the goal for her son.
All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day:
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
the “I have a dream” we all keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent
today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light
breathing color into stained glass windows,
life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth
onto the steps of our museums and park benches
as mothers watch children slide into the day.
S3 … We are all integrated through the light of our existence. That light is vital as vital as we are to each other. And now consider children learning through that light and as children we all have a dream, a future – ambitions – but then there is that reference to the slaughter of twenty children where there are no words for those caught in grief … and perhaps the dream is on hold … but the one light (akin to the one God) is an answer to prayer breathes life (colour) and warmth into the inanimate – and perhaps recovery to those in grief (likened to bronze statues)– or generally for those in need of a response to their prayer – note stained glass has church and religious connotations. And at the detailed level a mother watches a child slide into the day – slide into life … a reference to play and playground and early years.
One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat
and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands
as worn as my father’s cutting sugarcane
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.
S4 … We are integrated by one ground as well as one light and that ground has a direct personal relationship through occupation and through using resources for personal benefit of food and warmth … and the ground carries our life through infrastructure which we mould into the ground … and at the detailed level a reference to the poet’s father who cut sugarcane to benefit the poet (the dream of the father – education for his children).
The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains
mingled by one wind — our breath. Breathe. Hear it
through the day’s gorgeous din of honking cabs,
buses launching down avenues, the symphony
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.
S5 … One light, one ground and now one wind. At the personal level we all breathe the one substance exhale and inhale … one human wind – we hear it through the sounds of busy city life (gorgeous din – din that can also be seen as gorgeous) and then in the unexpected – an example, the song of a bird on a clothes line.
Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling,
or whispers across cafe tables, Hear: the doors we open
each day for each other, saying: hello, shalom,
buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos días
in the language my mother taught me — in every language
spoken into one wind carrying our lives
without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.
S6 … One wind carries the sounds of life … communicates without prejudice … it does not matter what language … and again we have a personal reference to the words of RB’s mother.
One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands:
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report
for the boss on time, stitching another wound
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into the sky that yields to our resilience.
S7 … One sky in which both the natural world and the created world exist … a thank you to this twofold creativity … from the smallest work to the Freedom Tower and the importance of what this building represents to Americans.
One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father
who couldn’t give what you wanted.
S8 … One sky again, which we look too away from work … in contemplation … guessing the weather … but reflecting on this in relation to how we have been weathered in life … a thank you to love … a thank you to our parents despite any shortcomings.
We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always, always — home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country — all of us —
facing the stars
hope — a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it — together.
S9 … we head home at the end of the day … all heading home … in different weathers (note the flow on of the weather metaphor from the previous stanza) … but we all head home … one silent moon just tapping on the rooftop … no one hearing – compare with the sun’s early rays in the first stanza … first light on rooftops and the windows hiding movement … gestures in the awaking day … but now it is the end of the day … all of the nation facing the stars – the brights in the dark … and it is up to us to map together, a new future.
A link to Richard Blanco’s Website … on this site you can hear Richard Blanco’s reading of this poem at the Inauguration.