Make hope and history rhyme

Published January 24, 2021, 8:14 PM

by AA Patawaran

American presidents have not been shy about their love of and respect for reading, writing, poetry, and literature.

Thomas Jefferson said, “I cannot live without books.”

Jimmy Carter said, “Being president is as difficult as writing the perfect poem. And being president is as effortless as writing the perfect poem.” 

Abraham Lincoln said, “Writing, the art of communicating thoughts to the mind through the eye, is the great invention of the world…enabling us to converse with the dead, the absent, and the unborn, at all distances of time and space.”

John F. Kennedy urged, “Let us welcome controversial books and controversial authors.”

Dwight Eisenhower said, “Don’t be afraid to go to your library and read every book.”

But of all 46 presidents of the US, only four have employed the eloquence of poets to share their noblest intentions at their inauguration.

(Manila Bulletin/Unsplash)

Barack Obama had Elizabeth Alexander read “Praise Song for the Day” in 2009 and Richard Blanco read “One Today” in 2013.

Bill Clinton had Miller Williams recite “Of History and Hope” in 1997 and Maya Angelou “On the Pulse of Morning” in 1993.

At the John F. Kennedy inauguration in 1961, Robert Frost read “The Gift Outright,” although he originally wrote “Dedication” for the inaugural.

Joe Biden, as you know, turned to Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old youth poet laureate, America’s first and also the youngest to perform at a presidential inaugural, who wrote the riveting piece “The Hill We Climb,” which wowed her global audience.

But it looks like Joe Biden is a true lover of poetry. Not even a day old at the White House, he has given a full-length interview just sharing his thoughts on poetry in America. In fact, as he closed his speech accepting his nomination as a presidential candidate in August last year, he borrowed from Irish poet Seamus Heaney‘s “The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles’ Philoctetes” and said, “This is our moment to make hope and history shine.”