President John F. Kennedy asked Robert Frost to participate in his inauguration ceremony on January 20, 1961. Frost, the first poet ever to read a poem at a presidential inauguration, intended to deliver a seven line poem he wrote specifically for the occasion, Dedication, but lost his place (perhaps on purpose), so he began reciting this poem he’d committed to memory instead. It would be over thirty years until the next poetry recitation: Maya Angelou recited her poem, On the Pulse of the Morning, at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993. Elizabeth Alexander recited her Praise Song for the Day at President Barack Obama’s inaugural ceremony in 2008.
An illustration for the story The Gift Outright by the author Robert Frost
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 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, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become.