Robert Frost: Inauguration & Death
By the 1940s, Frost was undisputedly the grand master of American poetry. In 1943, he won his fourth and final Pulitzer Prize for the collection, A Witness Tree. Awards, honorary degrees, and teaching appointments at the country's finest universities were heaped upon him. In 1961, he was asked to read a poem at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy, a great admirer of Frost's work. By then 86 years old, the poet's handling of an unexpected snafu at the event only cemented his stellar reputation. Frost wrote an original poem for the inauguration called "Dedication," but once on the dais he found that the blinding sun made it impossible for him to read the typed words. After stumbling through a line or two, Frost abandoned "Dedication" and recited from memory his poem "The Gift Outright," an elegy to the founding of America.
On 29 January 1963, Robert Frost died of complications from prostate surgery. He was 88 years old. He was buried in Bennington, Vermont, under a self-written epitaph that summed up his complicated relationship with life: "I had a lover's quarrel with the world."21 In October 1963—just a month before his own untimely death—President John F. Kennedy spoke at the inauguration of the Robert Frost Library in Amherst, Massachusetts. "In honoring Robert Frost, we therefore can pay honor to the deepest source of our national strength," Kennedy said. "That strength takes many forms and the most obvious forms are not always the most significant. […] Our national strength matters; but the spirit which informs and controls our strength matters just as much."22
We believe that Frost would say the same about his poetry: the poem matters, but the spirit that informs and controls the verse matters just as much. Especially when that spirit belongs to Robert Frost. He knew that even a life as golden as his would eventually, one day, slide back into the darkness: "Then leaf subsides to leaf. / So Eden sank to grief, / So dawn goes down to day. / Nothing gold can stay."23