Robert Frost

Veterans Day: Selected Poems

The Gift Outright
 Robert Frost

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.

 

I Have a Rendezvous With Death
Alan Seeger

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade,
And apple-blossoms fill the air-
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath--
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows 'twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear...
But I've a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

 

It is the Soldier
Father Dennis Edward O'Brien
 
It is the Soldier,
not the reporter, who has given us freedom of press.

It is the Soldier,
not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the Soldier,
not the campus organizer, who gives us freedom to demonstrate.

It is the Soldier
who salutes the flag,
who serves beneath the flag,
and whose coffin is draped by the flag,
who allows the protester to burn the flag.

 
 
A Nation's Strength
Walt Whitman
 
Not gold, but only man can make
     A people great and strong;
Men who, for truth and honor's sake,
     Stand fast and suffer long.

Brave men who work while others sleep,
     Who dare while others fly --
They build a nation's pillars deep
     And lift them to the sky.

 

 
The Things That Make a Soldier Great
 Edgar Guest
 
The things that make a soldier great and send him out to die,
To face the flaming cannon's mouth nor ever question why,
Are lilacs by a little porch, the row of tulips red,
The peonies and pansies, too, the old petunia bed,
The grass plot where his children play, the roses on the wall:
'Tis these that make a soldier great.
He's fighting for them all.

'Tis not the pomp and pride of kings that make a soldier brave;
'Tis not allegiance to the flag that over him may wave;
For soldiers never fight so well on land or on the foam
As when behind the cause they see the little place called home.
Endanger but that humble street whereon his children run,
You make a soldier of the man who never bore a gun.
What is it through the battle smoke the valiant soldier sees?

The little garden far away, the budding apple trees,
The little patch of ground back there, the children at their play,
Perhaps a tiny mound behind the simple church of gray.
The golden thread of courage isn't linked to castle dome
But to the spot, where'er it be — the humblest spot called home.
And now the lilacs bud again and all is lovely there
And homesick soldiers far away know spring is in the air;
The tulips come to bloom again, the grass once more is green,
And every man can see the spot where all his joys have been.

He sees his children smile at him, he hears the bugle call,
And only death can stop him now -- he's fighting for them all.

 

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


 

Dedication

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.

 

 

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