Robert Frost Does it Right at JFK’s Inauguration

John F. Kennedy and Robert Frost blowing in the wind at JFK's Inauguration. Photo by Life

Fifty years ago today, Robert Frost made literary history by being the first poet to read at a Presidential Inauguration.

John F. Kennedy asked Mr. Frost to read a piece of his work.  As the Inauguration Ceremony approached, the poet understood the importance of the moment and decided to recite “Dedication,” a poem he wrote specifically for the occasion.

A full-fledged blizzard the night before, left the city frozen in a blanket of white.  Although the sun was shining on Inauguration Day, sub-zero temperatures and whipping winds stayed on, causing delay after delay.

When it was finally time to recite his poems, Mr. Frost took the podium.  Bundled in a long wool coat and thick scarf,  the wind blew his hair in every direction.  He began reciting “Dedication” but stumbled and stopped.  The sun’s glare reflecting off the snow made it impossible to read his new poem.

Rather than falter through a botched recitation, Mr. Frost changed direction.  He put his plan and his poetry aside, and recited “The Gift Outright” from memory.

Reading the words of “The Gift Outright,” I’m excited and astonished, again, at the inherent genius of art.  How appropos those words are for the occasion.  I’m also inspired by Mr. Frost’s action.  He knew what was most important. He put his ego and his poetry aside and did what should have been done for the occasion.

I’m sure I would have done the same on the spot.  It’s afterward that I wonder about.  Would I have pouted, whined? “Waaaa, I put a lot of work into that poem.  Stupid snow ruined everything.  My life suuuuuckkkkks!”

Past experience tells me I would be whining.  It’s a character flaw I need to work on.  A lot of artists and writers I know would whine; we’re a needy neurotic bunch. (Kanye West keeps coming to mind.)  Robert Frost didn’t whine though.  He took the road not taken and that made all the difference.

Resources: John F. Kennedy Inaugural Ceremony, Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken,” The Daily Post
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One thought on “Robert Frost Does it Right at JFK’s Inauguration

  1. I love this entry. I never knew that about Frost, and I especially like the perspective you focused on here: he moved forward, whereas most would sulk. Or at very least, they’d clamor to justify their decision. I’d like to think that if I’d been put in a similar situation, I would laugh at my misfortune and hopefully recognize the positive.

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