January 20, 1961
ROBERT FROST RECITES POEM AT JFK INAUGURAL
Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) Acclaimed American poet Robert Frost was the honored guest today at the inauguration of fellow New-Englander, John F. Kennedy.
The 87 year old Frost, who had written a new poem for the historic occasion, was unable to see the words he had typed because of the bright mid-day sunshine.
Participants & guests on the stage showed concern as Mr. Frost struggled to read his poem.
“I don’t have a good light here.”
At one point, LBJ put his hat alongside the paper to try to shade it from the sun.
Finally, the poet told the audience that he would recite another one of his poems from memory & he proceeded to do so without hesitation.
The poem, written in 1941, is titled….
A Gift Outright.
The land was ours before we were the lands
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people, She was ours
in Massachusetts, in Virginia.
But we were England’s, still colonials,
Possessed what we were still unpossessed by
Possessed by what we no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living.
And forthwith found salvation in surrender
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward
But still unstoried, artless, unenahnced
Such as she was, such as she would become
And for this occasion let me add,
to what she will become.*
*The last line, not in his original poem, was added “ad lib” by Frost.
Excerpts from the poem Robert Frost was unable to read at the Inaugural
Come fresh from an election like the last
The greatest vote of a people ever cast
So close yet sure to be abided by
It is no miracle our mood is high
A golden age of poetry & power
Of what this noonday’s the beginning hour**
**Poet/critic Randall Jarrell wrote before Frost’s death in 1963:
“Robert Frost…..seems to me the greatest of the American poets of this century. (His) virtues are extraordinary. No other living poet has written so well about the actions of ordinary men.”
“Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening”
A stanza from another of Robert Frost’s most well-known poems, Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening, written in New Hampshire in 1923, was often quoted in the aftermath of JFK’s death in reference to his brief but purposeful time as President.
The woods are lovely, dark & deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep.
Robert Frost & President Kennedy