Photo credits: Larry Morris for The Washington Post
“On the Pulse of Morning” is a poem by Maya Angelou, which she recited during U.S. President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration on January 20, 1993.
According to BlackFacts.com, on December 2, 1992, President Clinton nominated Angelou as an inauguration poet.
Angelou made history as the second poet to deliver a poem during a presidential inauguration. She was also the first African American and the first woman to do so. At John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961, Robert Frost was the first inaugural poet to perform such a presidential honor.
Angelou’s audio recording of the poem was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of “Best Spoken Word” in 1993. This brought her further popularity, recognition for her prior work, and widened mainstream appeal.
Change, inclusiveness, responsibility, and the role of both the President and the people in achieving economic security are all topics in the poem. Critics have compared “On the Pulse of Morning” to Frost’s inaugural poem and Clinton’s inaugural speech because of its symbolism, connections to current concerns, and personification of nature.
It has been dubbed as “Angelou’s autobiographical poetry.” Clinton’s choice of Angelou as an inaugural poet, as well as her “representativeness” of the American people and president, were lauded by the popular press.
Angelou’s “final grandeur will be ascribed” to the poem, according to critic Mary Jane Lupton. Angelou’s “theatrical” rendition of it, employs the abilities she developed as an actress and speaker, Lupton said.
This, Lupton added, was a return to the original African American oral heritage of Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X.