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.Robert Frost, “The Gift Outright”
At President John F. Kennedy's inauguration in 1961, the capital blanketed with freshly fallen snow and capped by a glaring winter's sun, Robert Frost was scheduled to read his newly composed poem “Dedication.” The conditions made it impossible for him to see the pages, so instead he delivered from memory an older verse about the birth of America – a poem, he once said, “about what Madison may have thought.” “The land was ours before we were the land's.” Later, in discovering within ourselves what had been withheld, we became the possession of the land. Frost's lines remind us of the ultimate sacrifice made by men whose bodies rest in soldiers' graves across the original thirteen states.