How can one not listen to good poem and not be moved by it?
Robert Frost was the first of a surprisingly small number of Inaugural Poets. Kennedy, Clinton, Obama, and now Biden – they were the only ones. No Republicans, but nor not every Democrat, either.
In response to his invitation to become the first Inaugural Poet, Robert Frost replied to JFK:
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.
There is much unravel here.
“… the arts, poetry, now for the first time taken into the affairs of statesmen.
Read Angelou (“You, created only a little lower than the angels, have crouched too long in the bruising darkness“), read Alexander (“Say it plain: that many have died for this day.“). Hell, read Frost (“The land was ours before we were the land’s”), a sentiment of true patriotism and devotion to one’s country, that may or may not be out of style these days.
The arts and poetry, FOR THE FIRST TIME (this was sixty years ago), given a place in the affairs of statesmanship. I think, everything being equal, that countries would be better led by those who understood and appreciated – if not agreed with – the sentiments of this kind of poetry.
How about the sense of duty: “I can accept it for my cause.” A cause elevated.
What else? How about the juxtaposition of age? An elder poet and the youngest president ever? A sage love story for country from a place of true wisdom, to a new President rather lacking in it. Frost, 86, Kennedy 42.
Now consider the juxtaposition of age at today’s inauguration. Joe Biden 78, Amanda Gorman 22. Wisdom in youth, encouraged, accepted, and now celebrated by the most important page turner in our generation.
When day comes we ask ourselves,
where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade
We’ve braved the belly of the beast
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace
And the norms and notions
of what just is
Isn’t always just-ice