Amanda Gorman’s ‘Chorus of the Captains’ is an occasional poem written for and performed at the 52nd Super Bowl. It describes the work of three American heroes in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Throughout ‘Chorus of the Captains,’ Gorman references the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic hardships that many Americans, and people around the world, have been facing throughout the previous year. She makes direct reference to three “captains,” or local heroes, who have done more than anyone would’ve asked them to in order to help their communities. These three heroes, Suzie Dorner, James Martin, and Trimaine Davis, are average Americans who are rightly honored at the start of the Super Bowl and should serve as an inspiration to all those who watched the poem at home when it premiered or read it later.
— NFL (@NFL) February 7, 2021
Explore Chorus of the Captains
Throughout ‘Chorus of the Captains,’ the speaker, Gorman herself, describes three heroes Suzie Dorner, James Martin, and Trimaine Davis, who have worked in different ways to benefit their communities. She also alludes to the broader state of the country and the ways that “we” all have to come together to honor the work of those who have lost their lives and those, like the three honorary captains, who continue to work to better the lives of others. The poet is hoping to rekindle hope in the hearts of those reading the poem or listening to its recorded premiere at the start of Super Bowl 52.
You can read the full poem here.
In ‘Chorus of the Captains,’ Gorman engages with themes of heroism, sacrifice, and community. Throughout this poem, she defines what a contemporary hero is and what kind of sacrifices they make on an everyday basis. Suzie Dorner, James Martin, and Trimaine Davis, the three Americans mentioned in this poem, have each spent the last year, and longer, working to better the communities they’re a part of. They have served those around them in different ways but should all serve, Gorman, emphasizes, as role models for those listening to or reading the poem.
Gorman also emphasizes sacrifice, in addition to connected themes like loss and sorrow, in the lines of ‘Chorus of the Captains.’ She mentions the fact that Suzie Dorner, an ICU nurse, lost both her grandmothers during the COVID-19 pandemic but continued to work in the intensive care unit at her hospital. It’s this kind of sorrow that many Americans, and people around the world, have been enduring throughout the last year. But, Suzie continued to work, ensuring that she did everything possible to keep the same grief from entering into the lives of other families.
The broader historical context in which this poem was written and performed is critical for understanding its importance. This piece, as mentioned above, was performed at the 52nd Super Bowl in front of a limited in-person crowd and a much larger crowd watching on TVs and computers. This was due to the factors of the COVID-19 pandemic that meant public gatherings were limited as much as possible, and spectators were seated at a certain distance from one another. The teams playing that evening had been isolated the entire season, unable to see those who did not have a place inside the NFL bubble.
The history of the moment can also be seen in the fact that Gorman herself was not present in the stadium. It was only through a prerecorded video that the poem was shared with the world. She also makes several direct allusions to the COVID-19 pandemic in the words of her poems. She speaks about the need to implement remote learning, the importance of medical staff working in ICUs, and more.
The poet, Amanda Gorman, is also the speaker of this poem. While she does not allude to her presence in the same way as she did during her well-loved, and recently performed inaugural poem ‘The Hill We Climb,’ she does make it clear that she’s speaking at that moment, in a very specific place. She’s very aware of the context, setting, and historical importance of her poem. She also speaks as part of a collective, the “we” she uses several times throughout the poem, such as in the second to last line, which refers to the broader viewing public. She’s an American, as are the three heroes she’s honoring, and the majority of those who are watching her read her poem.
‘Chorus of the Captains’ was performed at the 52nd Super Bowl in front of a live crowd of 22,000 people and the two football teams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City team. Gorman also had an audience of around 148.5 million people watching the game stream live around the world. The words she uses in the poem, such as “captain” and “Today” specifically reference the moment in which the poem is being read. It was written for the occasion and is therefore perfectly tailored. When Gorman uses lines like “Let us walk with these warriors, / Charge on with these champions,” she is directly speaking to the millions of Super Bowl viewers listening to her words.
Gorman makes use of several literary devices in ‘Chorus of the Captains,’ these include but are not limited to enjambment, caesura, alliteration, and allusion. The latter is one of the most important devices at work in this piece. It occurs when the poet mentions something but doesn’t give the reader all the details related to it. In this case, the poet references three different local “heroes.” These are Suzie Dorner, James Martin, and Trimaine Davis, from Tamp, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles, respectively. These three people were chosen as honorary captains to participate in the coin toss and start of the 52nd Super Bowl.
Alliteration is a formal device that occurs when the poet uses the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “lead” and “limitations” at the ends o lines four and five as well as “wounds” and “warfare” in line eight.
Enjambment is another important device. It occurs when the poet cuts off a line before the natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines eleven and twelve as well as lines sixteen and seventeen.
Readers should also consider Gorman’s use of caesurae. These are pauses in the middle of lines that occur when the poet uses punctuation or creates a pause through her use meter. For example, line nineteen reads: “Her chronicles prove that even in tragedy, hope is possible.”
Today we honor our three captains
For their actions and impact in
Uplifiting their communities and neigbors
As leaders, healers, and educators.
In the first lines of ‘Chorus of the Captains,’ the speaker begins by alluding to the three people at the heart of this poem, Suzie Dorner, James Martin, and Trimaine Davis. These three American citizens were chosen to participate in the coin toss at the beginning of the 52nd Super Bowl, the same event at which a recorded version of Gorman’s poem premiered. These honorary captains, and why they were chosen, is described throughout the poem. But, Gorman states, they all three have “taken the lead” and exceeded everyone’s exceptions. They’ve broken what society might’ve seen as the limitations on what someone can do to help and benefit their community, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic during which all of these events took place.
In the broadest sense, Gorman says, the three uplifted their communities and neighbors. They took on the important roles of “leaders, healers, and neighbors.”
James has felt the wounds of warfare,
But this warrior still shares
During Covid, he’s even lent a hand
Live-streaming football for family and fans.
It’s in the eighth line of the poem that Gorman starts to specify what exactly it is that these three heroes did independently to be celebrated on this world stage. She speaks about James Martin first. He is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran from Pittsburgh, PA who has spent his free time working with “at-risk kids.” This is a phrase used to describe children who come from challenging home situations or have some other factor in their lives that might contribute to their needing a bit of extra assistance to stay on the right path and achieve the lives they deserve.
He’s a “warrior,” a common term used to describe veterans of the United States military but he’s also gentle and carrying. He continues to give back to the community at a time when everyone has lost something or someone. Additionally, she adds, he’s also helped live stream important events like football games to his “family and friends.” While this might seem simple, it’s an event like this (such as the Super Bowl that was about to start when Gorman spoke these words) that bring people together in times of despair and hardship.
Trimaine is an educator who works nonstop,
They need to succeed in life and in school.
In the next few lines of ‘Chorus of the Captains,’ Gorman goes on to speak about the second “captain” of the evening, Trimaine Davis. He is an LA school teacher who helped his students get laptops in order to successfully start remote learning in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Gorman lays out exactly what it is that Trimaine did and emphasizes how important these kinds of materials are for young people to get the education they need to succeed in life. Both of these first two heroes, the reader will note, are influential in the lives of children. This is something that is historically quite noteworthy considering the impact that the extended period without contact with their peers is going to have on young people.
Suzie is the ICU nurse manager at a Tampa Hospital.
Her chronicles prove that even in tragedy, hope is possible.
Defining the frontline heroes risking their lives for our own.
In the eighteenth line of ‘Chorus of the Captains,’ the poet speaks about the third hero of the evening, Suzie Dorner, a nurse from Tampa, Florida (where the Super Bowl was taking place) who works in a COVID intensive care unit. It’s here that Gorman brings in one of the most important themes of her poem, hope. She uses Suzie as a way to prove that hope is possible even in the darkest of moments. In tragedy, hope is still there. Suzie, who spends so much of her life caring for others, has also suffered a loss. Specifically that of her grandmothers. She continues to fight on, risking her life to save the lives of others who need her. She is the definition of the “frontline heroes” who are there risking their lives “for our own.”
Gorman uses this moment to allude to the broader situation in the United States, and around the world. These lines are meant to remind the reader and any who listened to the original broadcast, of how others are putting themselves at risk on a daily basis, even more than a year into the onset of the pandemic.
Let us walk with these warriors,
Charge on with these champions,
And carry forth the call of our captains!
For, while we honor them today,
It is they, who every day, honor us.
In the final lines of ‘Chorus of the Captains,’ Gorman turns to speak about the three captains as “warriors” and “champions.” They are heroes of the modern age, as great fighters were in the past. They are a representation of everything good about the American people and what others are clearly in need of. She asks the listener to “carry forth the call of our captains,” or do as they do and help others whenever possible, even when you might need help yourself.
In order to properly celebrate and honor these three people, and the many others who are playing similar roles in their communities around the world, it’s only right that “We celebrate them by acting / With courage and compassion.” To do the opposite would be to ignore their sacrifices and the sorrow suffered by millions in the United States and around the world.
Today, she concludes, is one day on which “we” honor these three captains. But, “It is they who every day honor us.” The poem ends with the rhyming words “just” and “us,” ensuring the reader doesn’t miss the connection between what “we” can do today and what is “just” and righteous.
Structure and Form
‘Chorus of the Captains’ by Amanda Gorman is a thirty-line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. The lines do not follow a consistent rhyme scheme or metrical pattern, meaning the poem is written in free verse. But, there is a great deal of rhyme within them. There are numerous examples of half-rhyme and full rhyme. For instance, “share” and “warfare” at the ends of lines eight and nine and “hotspots” and “workshops” at the end of lines thirteen and fourteen. These are both great examples of half-rhymes. There are many other examples at the ends of other lines, as well as internally.
It’s impossible to ignore the importance of football as a symbol in ‘Chorus of the Captains.’ The word “captain” is a direct reference to the role that team captains play which has in this context been extended to the three heroes Gorman mentions. The game itself has been seen by many to be an oasis in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, just as Gorman mentions in regard to James Martin and his work to ensure his family and friends could watch the season.
When speaking about the third and final “captain” of the poem, Suzie Dorner, the poet mentions the ICU, or intensive care unit, she works in. These areas of local hospitals have been consistently featured in the news since the start of the COIVD-19 pandemic. They’re a place where many have lost loved ones to the virus and where others work daily trying to save as many lives as they can.
The laptops that Gorman references in the fifteenth line of the poem are an interesting symbol, one that clearly alludes to the pandemic and the effect it had on school-age children and more specifically on those who do not have the economic means to buy a computer for remote learning. Trimaine Davis, the “captain” who made sure his class had the laptops they needed, playing an important role in continuing the education of his students. Without these important pieces of technology, students would lose all contact with their peers and teachers, as well as find themselves at least a year behind in their studies. The laptops are also an interesting symbol of the economic disparity that exists around the United States. For some, owning a laptop was not a barrier to continuing class but for others, it was an immense hurdle to surmount.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Chorus of the Captains’ should also consider reading some of Amanda Gorman’s poetry. For example:
- ‘The Hill We Climb’ — written for President Joe Biden’s inauguration and explores the current state of American society.
- ‘In This Place (An American Lyric)’ — a poem about American life, tragedies, and acts of bravery.
Some other related poems readers might be interested in include:
- ‘Human Family’ by Maya Angelou — emphasizes the fact that although humanity has its differences, “we” are all part of the same family. Read more poetry by Maya Angelou.
- ‘America’ by Claude McKay — a memorable poem about loving and hating the United States. Contains the bad and the good parts of the country. Read more poems by Claude Mckay.