Jim Bendat's Democracy's Big Day: The Inauguration of Our President 1789-2013 includes not only the famous tales about inauguration history, but also the behind the scenes stories that aren't as well known. You may be familiar with Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken." Here is a chapter from Democracy's Big Day entitled "The Poem Not Spoken."
|In 1961, eighty-six year old Robert Frost became the first poet to ever be invited to speak at a presidential inauguration. In the days leading up to John F. Kennedy's inauguration, Frost wrote a special poem for the occasion called "Dedication."
There was a major snowstorm on the night before the ceremony. On the day of the inauguration, however, the sun was shining brightly and the sky was blue. Frost was about to begin to read his poem, but the very bright glare of the snow prevented him from being able to read his manuscript clearly. Here was one of the world's most famous poets, but he couldn't read his own words!
New Vice President Lyndon Johnson stood up and made an effort to creat some shade for Frost with a top hat (see above picture), but it didn't help. Frost could be heard to say, "I'm not having a good light" and "I can't see in the sun." So, instead, Frost delivered an older poem, "The Gift Outright," one that he had memorized.
But even then, Frost's problems didn't end. He concluded his presentation by informing the assembled throng that his poetry had been dedicated "to the president-elect, Mr. John Finley. Frost had inadvertently stated the name of a scholar from Harvard. Finley knew Frost. Finley may have been a friend of Frost. But Finley was no Jack Kennedy.
Photo credit: Frank Scherschel / Time & Life Pictures / Getty Images.
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