Inauguration Day Poems

The nation is abuzz regarding the performance of poet Amanda Gorman at the Inauguration of Joe Biden on January 20, 2021. Her poem, “The Hill We Climb”, added  texture, depth, and richness to the somewhat more sober and mandatory proceedings of the day. Yet this performance was only the sixth time a poet has offered a poem as part of the Inauguration Day program. The first poet to perform a piece at an inauguration was Lawrence’s own Robert Frost, and it did not go quite as planned.

Frost, who read his poem, “The Gift Outright” at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961, actually intended to present another. Like Gorman, he crafted a poem, “Dedication”, specifically for the occasion of inauguration (despite originally declining Kennedy’s request to craft a new piece for the event). However, the glare from the day’s sun prevented him from seeing the words to “Dedication” as he stood at the lectern to speak, and he recited “The Gift Outright” from memory instead.

You can read the full text of “Dedication” as published on the Boston Globe’s blog in 2011 by Alan Wirzbicki. The post notes that Frost wrote the poem specifically about Kennedy and even alluded to inauguration day itself in the final lines: “A golden age of poetry and power / Of which this noonday’s the beginning hour.”

Featured image from the Library of Congress at https://www.loc.gov/item/mcc.088/

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