"The Rock Cries Out To Us Today"

"The Rock Cries Out To Us Today"


Maya Angelou

1993 William Jefferson Clinton Inaugural Poem

Babatunde Olatunji, Master Drummer


             A Rock, A River, A Tree

             Hosts to species long since departed,

             Mark 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 spelling words

             Armed for slaughter.

             The rock cries out today, you may stand on me,

             But do not hide your face.

             Across the wall of the world,

             A river sings a beautiful song,

             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 stone were one.

             Before cynicism was a bloody scar across your brow

             And when you yet knew you still knew nothing.

             The river sings and sings on.

             There is a true yearning to respond to

             The singing river and the wise rock.

             So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew,

             The African and Native American, the Sioux,

             The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek,

             The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,

             The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,

             The privileged, the homeless, the teacher.

             They hear. They all hear

             The speaking of the tree.

             Today, the first and last of every tree

             Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside the river.

             Plant yourself beside me, here beside the river.

             Each of you, descendant of some passed on

             Traveler, has been paid for.

             You, who gave me my first name,

             You Pawnee, Apache and Seneca,

             You Cherokee Nation, who rested with me,

             Then forced on bloody feet,

             Left me to the employment of other seekers--

             Desperate for gain, starving for gold.

             You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot...

             You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru,

             Bought, sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare

             Praying for a dream.

             Here, root yourselves beside me.

             I am the tree planted by the river,

             Which will not be moved.

             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

             The day breaking for you.

             Give birth again

             To the dream.

             Women, children, men,

             Take it into the palms of your hands.

             Mold it into the shape of your most

             Private need. Sculpt it into

             The image of your most public self.

             Lift up your hearts.

             Each new hour holds new chances

             For new beginnings.

             Do not be wedded forever

             To fear, yoked eternally

             To brutishness.

             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 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,

             Into your brother's face, your country

             And say simply

             Very simply

             With hope

             Good morning.




Define the following terms taken from Maya Angelou’s poem and then use in a complete sentence with subject and verb.


  1. Mastodon
  2. Sojourn
  3. Destiny
  4. Cynicism
  5. Yearning
  6. Passage(s)
  7. Sculpt
  8. Yoke(d)
  9. Mendicant
  10. Pulse


Figurative Language


Ms. Angelou creates strong, startling images through the use of figurative language including metaphors and similes. Identify what category of figurative language (i.e., metaphor or simile) the following words or phrases taken from the poem above are and then briefly state what characteristic, trait or image comes to mind as a direct result.


  1. Hastening doom
  2. The Rock cries out to us…
  3. The bruising darkness
  4. Words armed for slaughter
  5. Currents of debris upon my breast
  6. The singing river
  7. The wise rock
  8. Your most public self




Drawing from your close reading of Maya Angelou’s Presidential Inaugural Poem, answer the following questions. Use specific, concrete details and references from the actual poem coupled with your own personal observations to develop and support your answers.


  1. In referring to the disappearance of the dinosaur and other “species long since departed,” Angelou informs the reader of the impossibility of knowing how those earlier life-forms disappeared. How does she make this point?
  2. The poet here builds her work around three voices: a rock, a river, a tree. What effect does the work gain from inanimate objects being given “voices” with which to speak as opposed to, say, a living soul or person from history?
  3. The Rock is the first to be given a voice in this poem. What audience is the Rock speaking to? What is the message that the Rock carries or wish to convey?
  4. Second to be given a voice in this poem is the River. In what form does the River speak and how does this voice contrast to the Rock and what the Rock has to say? What is the River’s message?
  5. Angelou refers to “the singing river and the wise rock” in this poem. Why?
  6. The last to be given a voice is the Tree. How would you describe the message, the memory, of the Tree in contrast to what either the Rock or the River have said?
  7. The poet writes, “…History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” What does this statement mean or say to you?
  8. What phrase, reference or image in this poem most stands out to you? Why?
  9. The poem closes with the words, “Good morning.” Why? What purpose does Ms. Angelou achieve in choosing to close with those two simple words? Is she effective in choosing to close in this way?
  10. We can learn much from the titles of works, whether those works are poems, essays, short stories, novels, songs or films. What do we learn, or what is suggested, in the title of this poem? Why do you suppose Ms. Angelou chose this as the title of such a poem that was to be read, after all, at the Inauguration of a United States President – arguably, the most powerful person on the planet?