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A Gift Outright

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On this historic day, I am turning fifty. The biggest gift I have to give to my country has chosen to give himself. My son has become a Marine. This is the letter I have written to him:


My Dear Son,

Not since I was a very little child has so much hope been placed on an inauguration. At that time, in my very small youth, a very wise, strong man from New England stood in a vast wind, not just the wind of change sweeping the country, nor the wind of his life passing with the tides of time, but a visceral wind blowing through the streets of Washington, tossing his papers, and making his words become something different—and so Robert Frost, tried and molded through the verities of a hard New England life, stepped sideways in this historic moment, and unable to read the pages in front of him, quoted this poem that perhaps means so much more, and to me means a great deal. I give it to you on this historic eve, to carry with you as you leave New England and join the winds of history and time—and I give it with my hopes that you can bend with those winds as well as Mr. Frost, and indeed President Kennedy did, it is so much the root of who you are, where you have come from, and why you are choosing to defend this land.


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.
Robert Frost

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