Richard Blanco, the poet of ‘One Today’, captures the oneness of nature in this poem. Nature and every element of it is one. The sun and moon shine over everyone without any prejudice. Even in the case of air or sound, travel equally to everyone on the planet. One must cherish this spirit of nature that never favorably treats a human over another. Hence, Blanco tells his readers to praise and breathe this oneness.
This inaugural poem depicts the beauty of modern America by using vivid imagery. Through the poem, Blanco infuses hope inside every American’s mind regarding the flourishing future of the nation.
This poem captures the happenings inside the nation on a single day. In the morning when the sun rises, it marks a new beginning. Millions of faceless Americans are all equal under the shining sun. The light coming from the sun and the open ground are meant for the citizens of a country. People breathe the same air under one sky. These elements of nature are not prejudiced. They treat everyone equally without any prejudice.
Like the sky is the same for everyone, each human inhabiting under it is not different. A nation is nothing but an abstract idea if the people living in the country are deprived of equal opportunity. For this reason, Blanco emphasizes the word, “our” throughout the poem.
You can read the full poem here.
The meaning of the poem, ‘One Today’ is not that hard to decode. It is not that simple as a reader thinks. In this poem, Blanco is referring to the happenings inside a country on a single day. He particularly marks the day of the president’s inauguration by the title. This day, similar to any other day, depicts how each citizen of the country contributes to the nation from the moment when the sun touches the American soil.
Blanco not only highlights the importance of those who provide professional service. He also highlights the role of parents who tirelessly nourish their children for making them educationally sound and emotionally strong. thus, like the professionals, the parents also participate in nation-building.
Moving on, those who are working for earning bread, are simultaneously giving back to society. However, only a few recognize their role. If a person is seeing the morning sun, he or she should be thankful to all. Through this poem, Blanco recognizes their contribution and praises their hard work dedicated to the nation.
In each stanza, Blanco does not use a set rhyme scheme. Just like other modern poems, it is in free verse, not yielding to the conventional approach of writing poetry. Saying this, the absence of rhyming does not make the poem’s sound scheme monotonous. Blanco uses internal rhythm for maintaining the unbreakable flow inside this poem. Readers cannot find a set metrical pattern in the text. It mostly consists of the iambic meter with a few metrical variations.
- The title ‘One Today’ is a metonym for the presidential inauguration day. It can also be a reference to any other day.
- Blanco uses personification. He invests the sun with the ability to peek and greet.
- The most important literary device of this poem is enjambment. It helps to internally connect the lines.
- There is the use of repetition throughout the poem. As an example, in the first line of the second stanza, the poet repeats the word “face” for the sake of emphasizing the idea of equality.
- A reader can find the use of simile in the line, “fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows.” The colors of the fruits mentioned in the line are compared to a rainbow.
- There is a metaphor, in “the plum blush of dusk.” Here, the poet compares the color of the day at dusk to the face of a blushing lady.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.
Blanco begins the poem, ‘One Today’ by referring to the sun that rose on that day. It kindled the shores and peeked over the “Smokies”. The usage of colloquial words, such as “Smokies” gives this poem a conversational tone.
The sun greeted the faces of the Great Lakes. According to the poet, it is spreading a simple truth across the Great Plains of America. The truth is all are equal in front of the sun. It is important to note here that in the first stanza the poet uses visual imagery for depicting the movement of the sun across the sky.
To emphasize the idea of equality, Blanco says the sun shines on the mountains as it shone over the plains. He depicts the sun as a source of power, providing nourishment to each element of nature, including humans. That “one light” of the sun wakes up everyone. Those who wake up with the sun, have their unique stories to tell others. Their “silent gestures” moving behind windows show how they are getting ready for their day’s works. In the quoted phrase, Blanco uses a personal metaphor.
My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.
In this stanza, Blanco captures people’s activities in the morning. He uses onomatopoeia by using the word “yawning” in the second line. The overall stanza depicts how the citizens wake up with the day and yawn to life.
After waking up, they start for the day crescendoing into their daily works. Suddenly, the poet uses the image of pencil-yellow school buses arriving to take the students to school. The rhythm of the traffic lights depicts a busy road.
There is a fruit stand containing apples, limes, and oranges. They are arrayed like rainbows begging for the onlookers’ praise. Then again, Blanco depicts the road. Readers can visualize Silver trucks loaded with either oil or paper, bricks or milk. They are teeming over highways. This image portrays a hopeful beginning as well as the business in the morning.
In this stanza, there is a fusion of external imagery with homely imagery. Blanco illustrates how a mother starts her day. This section becomes subjective as here the poet talks about himself. According to him, on his way to clean tables, he finds his mother reading ledgers. She nurtured the family and educated her children. For her selfless contribution, the poet can write a poem today.
All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day:
onto the steps of our museums and park benches
as mothers watch children slide into the day.
In the third stanza of ‘One Today’, the poet captures several themes. He says everyone is vital as the same light sustains each creature on earth. The light helps students to see the lessons for the day. It is the same light that helps a student to solve equations, question history, imagine the atoms, or dream. In the fourth line, the poet alludes to the public speech, “I Have a Dream” delivered by Martin Luther King Jr.
The mood of the poem suddenly changes in the following lines. It takes a critical turn when the poet speaks of racism and inequality implicitly. According to him, none can express the sorrow after seeing the empty desks of twenty children, marked absent on that day. They will be absent forever. The unequal treatment of students according to their economic, social, or ethnic background may be one of the reasons for their absence.
In the next lines, the speaker says different people pray in their way. But, the light is always the same. It breathes color into the stained glass windows and infuses life into the bronze statues. This light supplies warmth to the steps of museums, and park benches. In the last line, the poet depicts an image of a mother seeing her children playing in a park.
One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat
as worn as my father’s cutting sugarcane
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.
In stanza four, Blanco gives a reference to the ground that is for everyone. He presents images of the stalks of corn and wheat. Farmers sowed that corn and wheat with their hands, sweating under the sun. The workers who gleaned coal or planted windmills in the toughest environmental conditions, contribute to society. Hands that dig trenches, rout pipes, and cables, are alike to the poet’s father.
His father was a farmer who toiled to educate his sons and fulfill their needs. This section projects the utilitarian perspective. The depiction of the different working class is depicted in their ideal state, tirelessly committed to nation-building.
The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains
mingled by one wind—our breath. Breathe. Hear it
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.
The speaker, in the fifth stanza, says the dust of farms and deserts, cities and wind, is mingled with one wind. It is the same wind that everyone breathes. The person who breathes the air can feel the oneness in nature.
Blanco associates auditory imagery in the following lines. The poetic persona welcomes the audience to hear the din of honking cabs. Buses launching down avenues have a rhythm. There is a symphony in footsteps as well as the guitars. The screeching sound, no matter how bad it sounds, taps with the heartbeat of modern city life.
The last image of a songbird on the rope for hanging clothes is interestingly placed with the mechanical sounds to unite nature with modernization. Blanco does it for the best to say, modern life is not that prosaic. It has a sound resonating with nature.
Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling,
or whispers across café tables, Hear: the doors we open
spoken into one wind carrying our lives
without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.
In the sixth stanza of ‘One Today’, Blanco presents a set of auditory images. The speaker requests readers to hear the sound of the squeaky swings in a playground, the whistling of the trains, and the whispers across café tables.
He invites readers to visualize how people open doors for each other all day. In lines three to four, the poet refers to the diversity of the country and the unique expressions of greeting one another. Some greet others saying only “hello”. While some say, “Buenos días” in greetings. But, all such expressions have the same amount of warmth as the expressions used by other linguistic communities.
The speaker refers to one’s mother tongue in the fifth line. The wind carries the sound of the languages spoken in the country without prejudice, as the words of the speaker.
One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.
After referring to the sun, sky, wind, and light, in the seventh stanza, the speaker talks about the sky. The sky was always the same. When the Appalachians and Sierras claimed their majesty over the earth, it was the same as it is now. It was there when Mississippi and Colorado worked their way to the sea.
In the third line, the speaker thanks those who weaved steel into bridges. He is also thankful to all the office goers, doctors, or simple women. An artist and the creators of the Freedom Tower, all have contributed to America in one way or another. For the poet, this tower, jutting into the sky, is a symbol of human resilience.
One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father
who couldn’t give what you wanted.
The speaker sometimes lifts his eyes to the sky when he is tired from work. Each person looked at it with hope or in utter despair at some point of life. Some of them might have looked at the sky guessing the weather of one’s life, a metaphorical reference to the mental state of a person.
When one expresses his thankfulness to God, he looks up at the sky. He is thankful as God gave the person a love that loves him back. Whenever someone wants to praise a mother who knew how to give, they look at the sky. A father who could not stand up to a child’s expectations can be forgiven if they look up at the benevolent sky. In this way, the sky becomes an important symbol referring to the almighty.
We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it—together
The last stanza of ‘One Today’ reflects an optimistic mood. In the first line, Blanco refers to the importance of the home. Everyone always returns to their home, no matter how the weather is. There can be the gloss of rain, and the weight of snow outside. But, nothing can give a soul the warmth of care except home under the sky. This sky does not belong to a particular person or class.
Moving on, Blanco uses a simile to compare the moon to a “silent drum”. It seems to him as if the moonlight taps on every rooftops and window of the country rhythmically. Lastly, he refers to the stars.
People (most probably the scientists or inquisitive kids) face the stars in hope of finding a new constellation. The constellation is waiting for them. All they have to do is to map and “name it—together.”
Richard Blanco’s poem, ‘One Today’ was recited at President Barack Obama’s second public inauguration on Monday, January 21, 2013, at the West Front of the United States Capitol Building in Washington D.C. The theme of the inauguration was “Faith in America’s Future.” Blanco’s poem excellently captures this optimistic theme. He was the fifth poet to recite during the U.S. presidential inauguration. He wrote three poems for that day. The officials chose ‘One Today’ among ‘What We Know of Country’ and ‘Mother Country’. According to the poet:
I wanted all three to be different facets of my writing, and my experiences, and how we can live in our country and be part of the union.
Here is a list of a few poems that similarly presents the intricate themes of Richard Blanco’s poem, ‘One Today’.
- Of History and Hope by Miller Williams – This poem describes the importance of history for the betterment of the nation and how the children are going to shine for the nation.
- Light Breaks Where No Sun Shines by Dylan Thomas – It’s one of the best-loved poems of Thomas. This poem describes the effect of hope springing from an apparent hopeless state. Explore more poetry of Dylans Thomas.
- Democracy by Langston Hughes – This poem asks the readers to reassess their ideas of freedom and democracy. It’s one of Langston Hughes’ best poems. Explore more poetry from Hughes.
- On the Pulse of Morning by Maya Angelou – This poem deals with the voices of the rock, river, and tree and how humans can make this earth better. This poem is also a bit autobiographical like other poems of Angelou. Explore the best Maya Angelou poetry here.