Steve J. Moore

A Poetic Inauguration

In poetry, Radio, TV, World Events, Writing on January 20, 2009 at 9:48 am

Because I love poetry, because I love politics, because I am too lazy busy to write anything else, I am posting a copy of the inaugural poem that Robert Frost read for John F. Kennedy on this very day in 1961.

Barack Obama has chosen Yale poet and scholar Elizabeth Alexander to pen the fourth presidential inauguration poem for him. She was a Pulitzer finalist in 2005 and has written several volumes of poetry.

 This first poem, Dedication (pictured below), was written in commemoration of John F. Kennedy’s 1961 Inauguration, but due to 87 year old eyes, Frost could not read the type. Instead of the poem below, he read The Gift Outright (further below) from memory.

 

frost

 

Dedication

 

Summoning artists to participate

In the august occasions of the state

Seems something artists ought to celebrate.

Today is for my cause a day of days.

And his be poetry’s old-fashioned praise

Who was the first to think of such a thing.

This verse that in acknowledgment I bring

Goes back to the beginning of the end

Of what had been for centuries the trend;

A turning point in modern history.

Colonial had been the thing to be

As long as the great issue was to see

What country’d be the one to dominate

By character, by tongue, by native trait,

The new world Christopher Columbus found.

The French, the Spanish, and the Dutch were downed

And counted out. Heroic deeds were done.

Elizabeth the First and England won.

Now came on a new order of the ages

That in the Latin of our founding sages

(Is it not written on the dollar bill

We carry in our purse and pocket still?)

God nodded his approval of as good.

So much those heroes knew and understood,

I mean the great four, Washington,

John Adams, Jefferson, and Madison

So much they saw as consecrated seers

They must have seen ahead what not appears,

They would bring empires down about our ears

And by the example of our Declaration

Make everybody want to be a nation.

And this is no aristocratic joke

At the expense of negligible folk.

We see how seriously the races swarm

In their attempts at sovereignty and form.

They are our wards we think to some extent

For the time being and with their consent,

To teach them how Democracy is meant.

“New order of the ages” did they say?

If it looks none too orderly today,

‘Tis a confusion it was ours to start

So in it have to take courageous part.

No one of honest feeling would approve

A ruler who pretended not to love

A turbulence he had the better of.

Everyone knows the glory of the twain

Who gave America the aeroplane

To ride the whirlwind and the hurricane.

Some poor fool has been saying in his heart

Glory is out of date in life and art.

Our venture in revolution and outlawry

Has justified itself in freedom’s story

Right down to now in glory upon glory.

Come fresh from an election like the last,

The greatest vote a people ever cast,

So close yet sure to be abided by,

It is no miracle our mood is high.

Courage is in the air in bracing whiffs

Better than all the stalemate an’s and ifs.

There was the book of profile tales declaring

For the emboldened politicians daring

To break with followers when in the wrong,

A healthy independence of the throng,

A democratic form of right divine

To rule first answerable to high design.

There is a call to life a little sterner,

And braver for the earner, learner, yearner.

Less criticism of the field and court

And more preoccupation with the sport.

It makes the prophet in us all presage

The glory of a next Augustan age

Of a power leading from its strength and pride,

Of young ambition eager to be tried,

Firm in our free beliefs without dismay,

In any game the nations want to play.

A golden age of poetry and power

Of which this noonday’s the beginning hour.

 

 

gift-outright-frost

The Gift Outright

 

Poem recited instead by Robert Frost at the

1961 Inauguration

  

The land was ours before we were the land’s.

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,

Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,

Possessed by what we now no more possessed.

Something 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, unenhanced,

Such as she was, such as she would become.

 

As a gem for those of you who at least scrolled to the bottom of this post (not everyone reads poetry carefully, I know) I stumbled upon two poems that Obama, himself, had published in an Occidental College journal years ago. Read them for yourself here.

Advertisements
  1. I wrote Obama a poem also.
    ________________________
    Wear we be

    Fifteenth
    century blunders gave
    Slave wonders under decks
    Inspected pecker dudes so crude

    Rude white’s shackle speckled skin
    Begin to tackle an existence dark
    Sin holy mother

    As they do unto other
    Spits as they slit
    Thy wrist

    fist
    Dismissed as if never
    been kissed

    Reminiscing time tongue twist bring
    short
    Ideas around to compound the angled

    star spangled while I
    dangle on the edge of
    no Lincoln, Obama trust

    not race must face the world today
    and display for

    all to see
    now we can claim these colors are
    free
    ______________________
    Thanks for the post. You should visit my site sometime.
    Peace.

  2. This is great, I love the hip-hop lyric and the history.

  3. I particularly enjoyed the line from Elizabeth Alexanders poem today :

    “Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign; The figuring it out at kitchen tables.”

    Several of her lines had such great imagery I always enjoy the picture painted in my mind when reading/listening to poems. Just as Robert Frost did with both examples above.

  4. Great! Thank you!
    I always wanted to write in my blog something like that. Can I take part of your post to my blog?
    Of course, I will add backlink?

    Regards, Timur I.

  5. Your site displays incorrectly in Opera, but content excellent! Thanks for your wise words =)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: