Posted by: Kevan Manwaring | January 23, 2009

Return of the King

20th January


A truly historic day, when the world changed: the day President Obama was inaugurated, becoming the first African-American Commander-in-Chief of  USA – and the first intelligent holder of that post for at least eight years. Eight long hard years that are finally over – the end of a bad dream.

Obama’s election is a victory for diversity, for equality, for common sense, for hope. His campaign ticket was ‘change’ – something this world sorely needs, in its current beleagured state. It is interesting that this momentous day takes place a day after Martin Luther King Day (an echo which no doubt Obama was deeply aware of) and on the day of St Agnes Eve – when it is said young women would dream of their future lover (as immortalised in Keats’ poem, The Eve of St Agnes). Well today proves dreams can come true. Obama’s inauguration earlier in a chilly, but sunny Washington was in many ways the culmination of Luther King’s dream.

What pleased me most about today’s ceremony – on a microcosmic scale – was the inclusion of music and poetry amidst the pomp and ceremony. Four world class musicians performed a piece composed by John Williams; Aretha Franklin sang an ‘alternative’ National Anthem; and Elizabeth Alexander, Yale Professor of Poetry, performed her Whitmanesque ‘Praise-Song for the Day’ – these contributions framed the vow-making and made it feel quite bardic. They provided a symbol of a renewed harmony – after nearly a decade of discord – hopefully ushering in a new era, as when Aragon sings at his coronation in Jackson’s  version of ‘The Return of the King’, which today’s ceremony in Gondor-analogue Washington echoed, visually at least (although there was no bowing to Hobbits, unless you count Obama’s charmingly present and colourfully attired daughters, or the fact that Obama began his speech by saying ‘I am humbled’… in a similar way to Aragorn’s ‘this day is not for one man, but for all Men’). After too many bad kings it seems the Western world may finally have a good king – let’s hope Obama achieves all that he sets out to do in his inspiring, but practical speech – for all our sakes. He is a master orator and his eloquence is heartening, especially since it seems matched with ability, commitment and integrity. Here is a man of action as well as words. Yet his fine words show how powerful the ability to express oneself can be – to match one’s thoughts and feelings with phrases of pertinence, of eloquence, that do them justice. When words and the world collide, synchronise, make each other real.

Here’s to better days ahead: may they be ‘the Days of Peace’.


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