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The poem Robert Frost wanted to read at John F. Kennedy's inauguration

Posted by Alan Wirzbicki  January 20, 2011 02:16 PM

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When he climbed the stage at John F. Kennedy's inauguration in 1961, poet Robert Frost intended to read "Dedication," a poem he'd written for the occasion.

Famously, though, the glare from sunlight bouncing off the snow was too bright that day for Frost to read the words. So instead, the 86-year-old poet recited another of his poems, "The Gift Outright," from memory.

But at today's ceremony honoring the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's inauguration, "Dedication" finally echoed across Capitol Hill, read aloud by chaplain Daniel P. Coughlin of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Unlike "The Gift Outright," "Dedication" was written specifically for Kennedy, even making reference to his razor-thin victory over Vice President Richard M. Nixon. ("The greatest vote a people ever cast, / So close yet sure to be abided by.")

And it ends with a poignant hope that the new president would lead the nation to the "next Augustan age" -- "A golden age of poetry and power / Of which this noonday's the beginning hour."

The full text of Frost's poem for Kennedy is after the jump.

Globe file photo: Robert Frost in 1958.

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 acknowledgement 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 devine
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 amibition 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.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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