President Kennedy on Poetry

JFK was a fan of Robert Frost, whom the President invited to a speaking role at his inauguration. Frost had prepared two poems, The Gift Outright (1923), and Dedication (1961), written within days of the event. But on game day, the glare of sunlight off the snow made reading Dedication impossible and there had not been time to memorize it. So only The Gift Outright was presented, thanks to Frost’s sharp mind and wit.

Two years later Kennedy would eulogize The Poet, just a month before his own assassination. The President said:

When power corrupts, poetry cleanses, for art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment. The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state.

JFK said of Frost,

He has bequeathed his nation a body of imperishable verse* from which Americans will forever gain joy and understanding.


* Verse [emphasis added] is synonymous with poetry, at least to JFK. President Kennedy knew that Poetry Lives in the Land of Verse.

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The Guern

Software developer by day; kilt wearing roller-skier (looking for snow) by night. A Norseman misplaced, living in the Deep South.

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