January 22, 2013, 1:36 pm
For the sixth time in presidential history, a poet was invited to participate in the inaugural festivities. With the exception of Lyndon Johnson, every Democrat since John F. Kennedy—and no Republican—has had an inaugural poet. Make of that fact what you will.
A few “occasional poems” (that is, poems specifically tailored to a given occasion) have survived the test of time: Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” W. B. Yeats’s “A Prayer for my Daughter.” Most, though, do not flourish in our cultural memory, probably because good art usually cannot be produced and delivered on demand.
Robert Frost fulfilled his inaugural assignment in 1961 by writing a preface to a poem he had already written. The preface, “Dedication,” is a long and unlovely prelude to the wonderful poem, “The Gift Outright,” that Frost called “a history of the United…