Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Balance Of The Arts

January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy was inaugurated the 35th President of the United States. At the inauguration, poet Robert Frost read his poem, "The Gift Outright"

The land was ours before we were the land’s.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
But we were England’s, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become.

January 29, 1963, Robert Frost died. The impact "The Gift Outright" made on JFK was so significant that on October 26, 1963, Kennedy delivered a speech at Amherst College at an event held in honor of Frost. While on the surface one may hear Kennedy underscore the role of the arts in regards to a nation. But don't miss the fact that here is a world leader embodying the very subject on which he spoke. The poet-statesmen are gone. 

Gone are the days when our leaders prove they understand the human spirit by how they embody, even enjoy the arts. The arts provide balance to the business of man whether his business be as grand as government or as small as the rule of the home. Kennedy explains how.

Here are Kennedy's remarks again, describing the role of poetry and the arts in government, or all that man puts his hand to do, for that matter:

"Robert Frost coupled poetry and power, for he saw poetry as the means of saving power from itself. When power leads men towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. For art establishes the basic human truth which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment . . . And the nation which disdains the mission of art invites the fate of Robert Frost’s hired man, the fate of having 'nothing to look backward to with pride, and nothing to look forward to with hope.'”

All this sounds very familiar when considers the role of the philosopher regarding society.

(ht: Open Culture)

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