What Maya Angelou's Reading at Bill Clinton's Inauguration in 1993 Meant to Her

The celebrated poet died Wednesday at the age of 86.

National Journal

On a sunny, January day in 1993, Maya Angelou stepped up to the podium of the West Front of the Capitol, directly after Bill Clinton had been sworn in and delivered his first address as the president of the United States.

She read her poem, "On the Pulse of Morning," and in it she honored the occasion and encapsulated the entirety of America's history — from the time of the dinosaurs to the struggles of Native Americans and African-Americans. The message of her poem was that the United States was a place where all these disparate elements of history can come together.

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Here on the pulse of this new day,

You may have the grace to look up and out

And into your sister's eyes, into

Your brother's face, your country

And say simply

Very simply

With hope

Good morning.

"In my work, in everything I do, I mean to say that we human beings are more alike than we are unalike, and to use that statement to break down the walls we set between ourselves because we are different," she told the Los Angeles Times about the poem at the time. "I suggest that we should herald the differences, because the differences make us interesting, and also enrich and make us stronger. The differences are minuscule compared to the similarities. That's what I mean to say."

The poem was hopeful and optimistic that the country could continue to come together, despite its history. "History," she intoned, "despite its wrenching pain, / Cannot be unlived, and if faced / With courage, need not be lived again."

Maya Angelou died Wednesday at the age of 86.

"There seems to be a promise in the air," she told The New York Times the month before the inauguration. "I do think we have another chance. Our nation has been given so many chances to set it right, and in so many cases we've taken the low ground. With Mr. Clinton, we have a person of large vision."

Angelou was a long-time Clinton family supporter, who in 2008, told The Guardian,  "I made up my mind 15 years ago that if [Hillary Clinton] ever ran for office I'd be on her wagon." She wrote a poem praising Hillary Clinton during her presidential campaign in 2008. Before the 1993 inauguration Angelou said, "Since the election, I have found it easier to wake up in the morning."

President Clinton issued a statement after the news of her death Wednesday. "I will always be grateful for her electrifying reading of 'On the Pulse of Morning' at my first inaugural, and even more for all the years of friendship that followed," he said. "Now she sings the songs the Creator gave to her when the river 'and the tree and the stone were one.'"

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