Words copyright © 1993 by Maya Angelou
Music and arrangement 1993 by Jim Bearden
The starting point for this song, of course, was the poem of the same title, written by Maya Angelou for President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration in 1993. If you remember the original version, you’ll notice that I didn’t use all of the words in the poem — in particular, I left out some of the long “laundry list” items in the middle, which didn’t “sing” very well. Since this poem had no rhyme scheme, no repeated rhythms, and no regular verse pattern, it proved a particularly difficult challenge to write music for it. I hope you like what I came up with.
A later addition: I supported Senator Bernie Sanders throughout the Democratic primary season in 2016, but when he urged his supporters to transfer their support to Hilary Clinton after the Democratic Convention, I did. One form of support that I offered was to contact the Clinton campaign staff, at a time when most of us thought she would win, and offer the use of my musical composition for her inauguration. They expressed interest in the idea, and I sent them the recording and modified lyrics that I had written, as they appear here. I expected no further contact from them until after the election, and of course, the way the election turned out, that never happened. So I have no way of knowing if my composition would actually have been used, but my disappointment at never knowing is trivial, compared to the disaster being inflicted on the entire country, as a consequence of the election results.
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 of 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 upon 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 collars 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 scar across your brow,
And when you yet knew you still knew nothing —
The river sang, and sings on.
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,
And, 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.
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:
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