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‘The Gift Outright’: Hear Robert Frost recite his legendary poem

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It’s always better hearing poetry in the voice of the poet.

In 1961, JFK had just won a historically close political contest. At the suggestion of his staff, Kennedy approached Robert Frost, then consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress, to read “The Gift Outright” or write an original poem in honor of the day. Brainpickings.org has the telegram Frost sent in response:

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. … I am glad the invitation pleases your family. It will please my family to the fourth generation and my family of friends and, were they living, it would have pleased inordinately the kind of Grover Cleveland Democrats I had for parents.

Yes, Frost wrote a wonderful poem and intended on reading it during this momentous occasion. Unfortunately, due to the sun’s glare, he could not see the words on the page. Instead he switched to plan B and recited from memory “The Gift Outright” which was well received. Brainpickings points out that Kennedy requested the last line be changed from:

“Such as she would become” to the more assertively hopeful “Such as she will become.”

This recording was made by Frost at a different time. There is no recording of him speaking at Kennedy’s inauguration.

You can read the poem Frost never got to read, entitled “Dedication,” here.

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