Robert Frost at JFK’s Inauguration

January 23, 2009

Posted by Nick Sarno


All opinions on Elizabeth Alexander aside, her reading this past Tuesday brought Robert Frost at JFK’s inauguration to mind. For the full story, read this article at There is also an amazing (fictionalized) account of the moment in Brian Hall’s Fall of Frost. Below is a transcription of Frost stumbling through “The Dedication” and reading “The Gift Outright”. You can also listen to the audio file here


(begin transcript)

ROBERT FROST: First, “The Dedication.”

Summoning artists to participate
In the august occasions of the state
Seems something for us all to celebrate.
Uh, And today is for my cause a day of days.
And his be poetry’s old-fashioned praise
Who was the one…who was the first to think of such a thing.
This tribute, eh, for the, to be his, that here I bring
Is about …

I’m not having a good light here at all.

Is about …
The new order of the ages [mumbles off mike]
Is about the new order of the ages
That God …
That in their Latin our founding sages

God … gave his approval of.


(Laughter and applause.)

FROST: I’ll just have to get through it the best I can. I think I’ll say …

This was to be a preface to a poem I can say to you without seeing it. The poem goes like this … (Applause.)

“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, hath become.

And for this occasion, let me change that to “what she will become.”

And this poem, what I was leading up to, is the dedication of the poem to the president-elect. (Applause.)

(end transcript)


One Response to “Robert Frost at JFK’s Inauguration”

  1. Carol Says:

    I also thought of Robert Frost during this amazing time,it made me sad to think poets like him are among the minority today.
    His words carry through time. At the time of the JFK inauguration Robert Frost was well into his eighties and at the end of his life. He died two years later. He had a life time of great works behind him. Can you say that about Elizabeth Alexander? Robert Frost said at the end of his life “What I have learned about life I can sum up in three words,” “Life goes on”

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