Rare and Unseen: JFK’s Inauguration – The President’s Poet

George Silk/ TIME & LIFE Pictures

George Silk/ TIME & LIFE Pictures

The President’s Poet

At 86 years old, Robert Frost was, in 1961, America’s greatest living poet. A four-time Pulitzer Prize winner and the quintessential New England bard (albeit born in California), he penned a new poem for the inauguration, but the intense glare of the January sun made it impossible for him to read his own manuscript. After struggling for a bit, and after LBJ stood and tried to help (using his own top hat to shield the page), Frost abandoned the effort and instead recited, from memory, another, more famous work: “The Gift Outright,” written nearly 20 years before, which reads in part, “we gave ourselves outright … To the land vaguely realizing westward.”

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