presidential poetry

Internet Sites for Researching the Presidency and Inauguration Ceremonies

This is the only online resource that has consolidated, coded, and organized into a single searchable database the papers of all presidents. The site at University of California-Santa Barbara contains over 76,000 presidential documents and supplements the 750 page text.  All Presidential Inaugural texts, some in audio and video are found at this site.

This site is a repository for Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of the United States. The contents of the site are is also a book available through the Office of Superintendent of Documents, Washington, D.C. The site also contains information on U.S. presidents who did not deliver inaugural speeches.

The Avalon Project at Yale Law School is also a comprehensive site for Presidential addresses including Inaugural, State of the Union and Farewell Addresses. Audio, video and photographs are available of inaugural events and photos of Inaugural manuscripts.

Maintained by U.S.A Today this interactive site provides audio and background information on inauguration speeches dating back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the present.


Robert Frost

Robert Frost
Robert Frost reading his controversial poem at President Kennedy’s Inauguration 

Poet Elizabeth Alexander was the fourth poet to read a commissioned poem for an inauguration when she presents her work at Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony, January 20, 2009. Robert Frost was the first. He was asked by President Kennedy to compose a poem for the occasion. However, because the wind was so strong and the sun so bright it made it impossible for Frost to read what was on the page. (See a copy of one of the pages of the poem below.) Unconcerned, he simply recited, “Gift Outright,” a previously written poem he had committed to memory. Some say that the “Gift Outright” was a far better poem than the one written for Kennedy. One critic has gone so far as to say that the poem, “Dedication,” the inaugural poem, was awful poetry and undoubtedly the worst poem Frost ever wrote. Whatever some feel about “Dedication” the “Gift Outright” also has its critics. Many label the poem as Eurocentric, nationalistic and imperialistic. Provide your own critique of both of Frost’s work.

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



Written in commemoration of John F. Kennedy's 1961 Inauguration

Summoning artists to participate

In the august occasions of the state

Seems something artists ought to celebrate.

Today is for my cause a day of days.

And his be poetry's old-fashioned praise

Who was the first to think of such a thing.

This verse that in acknowledgement I bring

Goes back to the beginning of the end

Of what had been for centuries the trend;

A turning point in modern history.

Colonial had been the thing to be

As long as the great issue was to see

What country'd be the one to dominate

By character, by tongue, by native trait,

The new world Christopher Columbus found.

The French, the Spanish, and the Dutch were downed

And counted out. Heroic deeds were done.

Elizabeth the First and England won.

Now came on a new order of the ages

That in the Latin of our founding sages

(Is it not written on the dollar bill

We carry in our purse and pocket still?)

God nodded his approval of as good.

So much those heroes knew and understood,

I mean the great four, Washington,

John Adams, Jefferson, and Madison

So much they saw as consecrated seers

They must have seen ahead what not appears,

They would bring empires down about our ears

And by the example of our Declaration

Make everybody want to be a nation.

And this is no aristocratic joke

At the expense of negligible folk.

We see how seriously the races swarm

In their attempts at sovereignty and form.

They are our wards we think to some extent

For the time being and with their consent,

To teach them how Democracy is meant.

"New order of the ages" did they say?

If it looks none too orderly today,

'Tis a confusion it was ours to start

So in it have to take courageous part.

No one of honest feeling would approve

A ruler who pretended not to love

A turbulence he had the better of.

Everyone knows the glory of the twain

Who gave America the aeroplane

To ride the whirlwind and the hurricane.

Some poor fool has been saying in his heart

Glory is out of date in life and art.

Our venture in revolution and outlawry

Has justified itself in freedom's story

Right down to now in glory upon glory.

Come fresh from an election like the last,

The greatest vote a people ever cast,

So close yet sure to be abided by,

It is no miracle our mood is high.

Courage is in the air in bracing whiffs

Better than all the stalemate an's and ifs.

There was the book of profile tales declaring

For the emboldened politicians daring

To break with followers when in the wrong,

A healthy independence of the throng,

A democratic form of right devine

To rule first answerable to high design.

There is a call to life a little sterner,

And braver for the earner, learner, yearner.

Less criticism of the field and court

And more preoccupation with the sport.

It makes the prophet in us all presage

The glory of a next Augustan age

Of a power leading from its strength and pride,

Of young ambition eager to be tried,

Firm in our free beliefs without dismay,

In any game the nations want to play.

A golden age of poetry and power

Of which this noonday's the beginning hour.