What Now?

"Discovering the effect that point of view has on tone and meaning can be an exciting process for students.  However, it is not enough simply to be able to label the different points of view in a professionally written text; a student's real understanding will come through the conscious manipulation of point of view in his or her own writing."







Nothing Gold Can Stay

Robert Frost1874 - 1963

Nature’s first green is gold, 
Her hardest hue to hold. 
Her early leaf’s a flower; 
But only so an hour. 
Then leaf subsides to leaf. 
So Eden sank to grief, 
So dawn goes down to day. 
Nothing gold can stay.

Poetry and Power: Robert Frost’s Inaugural Reading

Posted

February 21, 2014

When Robert Frost became the first poet to read in the program of a presidential inauguration in 1961, he was already well regarded in the capital: he read and dined at the White House; the Attorney General assisted his successful campaign to release Ezra Pound, who was under indictment for treason, from St. Elizabeth’s Hospital; he was offered the Consultant in Poetry position by the Library of Congress; and the United States Senate passed a resolution naming Frost “America’s great poet-philosopher.” In the words of the poet William Meredith, the decision to include Frost in the inauguration “focused attention on Kennedy as a man of culture, as a man interested in culture.” Kennedy’s decision to include Frost, however, was more likely a personal gesture to the poet, who was responsible for much of the momentum early in the President’s campaign.

On March 26, 1959, prior to a gala to celebrate his 85th birthday, Frost gave a press conference at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City. Among the questions asked was one concerning the alleged decline of New England, to which Frost responded: “The next President of the United States will be from Boston. Does that sound as if New England is decaying?” Pressed to name who Frost meant, he replied: “He’s a Puritan named Kennedy. The only Puritans left these days are the Roman Catholics. There. I guess I wear my politics on my sleeve.”

The national press picked up Frost’s prediction that the junior Senator from Massachusetts, who had not formally declared his candidacy, would be elected the next President. Less than a month later, Kennedy wrote Frost, stating: “I just want to send you a note to let you know how gratifying it was to be remembered by you on the occasion of your 85th birthday. I only regret that the intrusion of my name, probably in ways which you did not entirely intend, took away some of the attention from the man who really deserved it—Robert Frost.”

Frost repeated his prediction in many, if not most, of the lectures and public appearances he gave over the subsequent months, and continued to endorse the candidate whenever possible. Kennedy in return quoted from the final stanza of Frost’s poem "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" at the close of many of his campaign speeches: “But I have promises to keep, / And miles to go before I sleep.”

In response to the news that Kennedy had won the election, Frost called the outcome “a triumph of Protestantism—over itself.”

Stewart L. Udall, who had met Frost during his tenure as poetry consultant at the Library of Congress, and who was invited by Kennedy to serve as Secretary of the Interior, suggested Frost take part in the inauguration ceremonies. Kennedy jokingly responded, “Oh, no. You know that Robert Frost always steals any show he is part of.”

Kennedy’s invitation came to Frost by telegraph and the poet answered by the same means the following day:

IF YOU CAN BEAR AT YOUR AGE THE HONOR OF BEING MADE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, I OUGHT TO BE ABLE AT MY AGE TO BEAR THE HONOR OF TAKING SOME PART IN YOUR INAUGURATION. I MAY NOT BE EQUAL TO IT BUT I CAN ACCEPT IT FOR MY CAUSE—THE ARTS, POETRY, NOW FOR THE FIRST TIME TAKEN INTO THE AFFAIRS OF STATESMEN.

 

Kennedy asked if Frost planned to recite a new poem. If not, could he recite “The Gift Outright," a poem Frost called “a history of the United States in a dozen [actually, sixteen] lines of blank verse.” Kennedy also requested changing the phrase in the last line to “such as she will become” from “such as she would become.” Frost agreed. The original last line, which Frost claims to have written in the middle of the Great Depression, was first published in the spring 1942 issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review and read, “Such as she was, such as she might become.” It seemed appropriate that Frost agreed to further change the poem to reflect the optimism surrounding the new Presidency.

As inauguration day approached, however, Frost surprised himself by composing a new poem, “Dedication” (later retitled “For John F. Kennedy His Inauguration”), which he planned to read as a preface to the poem Kennedy requested. But on the drive to the Capitol on January 20, 1961, Frost worried that the piece, typed on one of the hotel typewriters the night before, was difficult to read even in good light. When he stood to recite the poem, the wind and the bright reflection of sunlight off new fallen snow made the reading the poem impossible. He was able, however, to recite “The Gift Outright” from memory.

Though Frost was somewhat embarrassed by his faltering, it made for a memorable and dramatic moment. The Washington Post reported that Frost “stole the hearts of the Inaugural crowd," somewhat as Kennedy had jokingly predicted.

Before leaving, Frost called on the new President and First Lady at the White House to receive Kennedy’s thanks for participating in the event. He presented Kennedy with a manuscript copy of the “Dedication” poem, on which he wrote: “Amended copy. And now let us mend our ways.” He also gave the President the advice: “Be more Irish than Harvard. Poetry and power is the formula for another Augustan Age. Don’t be afraid of power.”

At the foot of the typed thank-you letter Kennedy sent, he wrote, “It’s poetry and power all the way!”


The Gift Outright

Related Poem Content Details

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.


"What did you read in middle school?"  

The Outsiders.

For decades, Americans have reflected positively on their reading experience in middle school because of famed author S.E. Hinton and poet Robert Frost. Are you ready to join this club?  As a class we will learn what is feels like to be in, out, for, and against a group. We will grow as people as we empathetically walk in Ponyboy and Johnny's shoes.  These classic characters will come alive through your reading, analysis, and discussion of their teen troubles.  






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Lisa Farese,
Sep 7, 2016, 3:56 AM