Maya Angelou was charged with a herculean task by the Clintons in 1993 — compose a poem for the president-elect’s inauguration that will inspire a nation. It was the first reading of its kind in since John F. Kennedy tapped Robert Frost for a similar task in 1961.

Poet Maya Angelou reads "On the Pulse of Morning" at President Bill Clinton's 1993 inauguration. Angelou passed away on May 28, 2014 at her home. (William J. Clinton Presidential Library via YouTube)


The poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” was a lengthy 106 lines of free verse which received mixed reviews in literary circles. However, Angelou’s presence and delivery resonated with the president and many fans, furthering her position as a people’s poet.

“I love the poem,” President Bill Clinton told Angelou, according to a Post article by staff writer David Streitfeld. “It was as if you have been looking in our brains for the last six weeks. You said it much better than we could,” the former first lady added.

For Ntozake Shange, the poet best known for “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf,” the experience of watching Angelou read the poem on that January day was so moving, she told Streitfeld it was the first time since “an anti-war rally in 1969 have I felt so moved as to actually want to be here now in this country.”


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