Yes We Can
On the Election of Barack Obama
by Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke
In January 2009, Barack Obama was elected President of the United States of America. The first African-American President, his election has brought a surge of optimism in a country with a history of protests, riots and war over the rights of black Americans.
Carol Ann Duffy was asked by UK newspaper 'The Mirror' to write a poem for this historic event. In Wales, the Welsh Academi asked Gillian Clarke, the national poet of Wales, to write a poem as a gift to Obama.
The two poem are reproduced here.
we can, he said, and something in his voice
drew listening silence to it like a day
draws history; a gathering of hope and hurt
within the human music of his words.
This is what language asks of us, to hear
the truth’s full rhyme; and why the millions came
to where he spoke, the air they breathed a canvas
for his living speech. We read his lips: a prayer
for bitter faithlessness to learn, a blessing, vow,
a spell which banished lies and greed and harm
into the endless, generous sky. In his voice,
global and intimate, the voices echoed back-
a black woman’s insisting on her seat,
another man’s who said he had a dream.
Carol Ann Duffy
New Year, 2009
for Barack Obama
Venus in the arc of the young moon
is a boat in the arms of a bay,
the sky clear to infinity
but for the trailing gossamer
of a transatlantic plane.
The old year and the old era dead,
pushed burning out to sea
bearing the bones of heroes, tyrants,
ideologues, thieves and deceivers
in a smoke of burning money.
The dream is over. Glaciers will melt.
Seas will rise to swallow golden islands.
Somewhere a volcano may whelm a city,
earth shake its skin like an old horse,
a hurricane topple a town to rubble.
Yet tonight, under the cold beauty
of the moon and Venus, something like hope begins,
as if times can turn, the world change course,
as if truth can speak, good men come to power,
and words have meaning again.
Maybe black-hearted boys in love with death
won’t blow themselves and us to smithereens.
Maybe guns will fall silent, the powerful
cease slaughtering the weak, the rich
will not gorge as the poor starve.
Hope spoke the word ‘Yes’, the word ‘we’, the word ’can’,
and a thousand British teenagers at Poetry Live*
rose to their feet in a single yell of joy
black, white, Christian, Muslim, Jew,
faithful and faithless. We are all in this together.
Ie. gallwn ni.**
* A poetry day for GCSE students
** Yes we can. (Welsh)