Poetry and the Inauguration

“You can’t let the enormity of the occasion get in your way,” explained Elizabeth Alexander to the New York Times about being chosen to read a poem at Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration. “So what I’ve been able to do is ask myself how I serve the moment, but hopefully in language that has value and resonance when the moment has passed.”

Robert Frost read his poem The Gift Outright at Kennedy’s inauguration; he couldn’t read the poem he wrote because of the strong sun and his failing eyesight.

The Gift Outright

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.

Robert Frost

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4 Replies to “Poetry and the Inauguration”

  1. Hoping they post the text of her poem somewhere soon! I can already see the text of Obama’s speech, but I wnat to pore over Alexander’s words and Lowery’s as well. It’s gonna be a great four years for lovers of the English language and the power of words!

  2. I love that a poem was part of the day’s ceremony. What did you think of Alexander’s words today? Personally, I felt her poem was clean, unencumbered by wordiness, a poem for the people. I was happy with it.

  3. Thanks Wendy and Cassy, I loved the poem simple, beautiful language and a poem for the people is exactly right with a universal appeal. I hope it posted somewhere because I’d like to read it as well!

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