“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.