Louis Esterhuizen. Robert Frost as geleentheidsdigter


Vroeër vandeesmaand het ek geskryf oor die digter Richard Blanco wat die inwydingsgedig vir president Obama se inhuldigingsseremonie verlede week moes geskryf het. Dié tradisie van ‘n poëtiese inset tydens die inhuldiging dateer terug na Januarie 1961 toe John F. Kennedy vir Robert Frost gevra het om sy beroemde vers, “The Gift Outright” (‘n gedig wat reeds in die 1930s geskryf was), tydens die presidensiële inhuldiging voor te dra (foto).

Op die webblad Brainpickings kan die hele verloop van dié gebeure gelees word.

Hiervolgens het die 86-jarige digter soos volg op die uitnodiging gereageer: “If you can bear at your age the honor of being made president of the United States, I ought to be able at my age to bear the honor of taking some part in your inauguration. I may not be equal to it but I can accept it for my cause — the arts, poetry — now for the first time taken into the affairs of statesmen. … I am glad the invitation pleases your family. It will please my family to the fourth generation and my family of friends and, were they living, it would have pleased inordinately the kind of Grover Cleveland Democrats I had for parents.”

In Washington het Frost egter só meegevoer geraak met die opwelling van entoesiasme jeens Kennedy en die historiese belang van sy naelskraapse oorwinning oor Nixon, dat Frost besluit het om ‘n nuwe gedig met ‘n spesifieke fokus op die ‘nuwe era’ te skryf en voor te dra. Veral die slotreëls, “A golden age of poetry and power / Of which this noonday’s the beginning hour”, dui daarop dat Frost sommer baie opgewonde was oor die gewaande poëtiese handevat met die politiese bestel.

Helaas. Ongelukkig was daar glo nie voldoende tyd vir hom om die gedig, “Dedication”, te memoriseer nie en het hy gevolglik besluit om dit eerder voor te lees. Dog, by die mikrofoon is hy toe só verblind deur die son se refleksie op die sneeu, dat hy dit glad nie gelees kon kry nie. Gevolglik het hy toe wel aan die oorspronklike versoek voldoen en die gedig “The Gift Outright” uit sy geheue voorgedra. (Terloops, op Brainpickings se webblad kan na ‘n klankgreep van dié voordrag geluister word.)

Vir jou leesgerief volg albei gedigte egter hieronder. “Dedication” se titel is later deur Frost gewysig na “For John F. Kennedy His Inauguration”. Sowel dié gedig as “The Gift Outright” is in Robert Frost se versamelde werke opgeneem.


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 (Uit: Robert Frost – Collected Poems, Prose, and Plays)



Summoning artists to participate
In the august occasions of the state
Seems something artists ought to celebrate.
Today is for my cause a day of days.
And his be poetry’s old-fashioned praise
Who was the first to think of such a thing.
This verse that in acknowledgement I bring
Goes back to the beginning of the end
Of what had been for centuries the trend;
A turning point in modern history.
Colonial had been the thing to be
As long as the great issue was to see
What country’d be the one to dominate
By character, by tongue, by native trait,
The new world Christopher Columbus found.
The French, the Spanish, and the Dutch were downed
And counted out. Heroic deeds were done.
Elizabeth the First and England won.
Now came on a new order of the ages
That in the Latin of our founding sages
(Is it not written on the dollar bill
We carry in our purse and pocket still?)
God nodded his approval of as good.
So much those heroes knew and understood,
I mean the great four, Washington,
John Adams, Jefferson, and Madison
So much they saw as consecrated seers
They must have seen ahead what not appears,
They would bring empires down about our ears
And by the example of our Declaration
Make everybody want to be a nation.
And this is no aristocratic joke
At the expense of negligible folk.
We see how seriously the races swarm
In their attempts at sovereignty and form.
They are our wards we think to some extent
For the time being and with their consent,
To teach them how Democracy is meant.
“New order of the ages” did they say?
If it looks none too orderly today,
‘Tis a confusion it was ours to start
So in it have to take courageous part.
No one of honest feeling would approve
A ruler who pretended not to love
A turbulence he had the better of.
Everyone knows the glory of the twain
Who gave America the aeroplane
To ride the whirlwind and the hurricane.
Some poor fool has been saying in his heart
Glory is out of date in life and art.
Our venture in revolution and outlawry
Has justified itself in freedom’s story
Right down to now in glory upon glory.
Come fresh from an election like the last,
The greatest vote a people ever cast,
So close yet sure to be abided by,
It is no miracle our mood is high.
Courage is in the air in bracing whiffs
Better than all the stalemate an’s and ifs.
There was the book of profile tales declaring
For the emboldened politicians daring
To break with followers when in the wrong,
A healthy independence of the throng,
A democratic form of right divine
To rule first answerable to high design.
There is a call to life a little sterner,
And braver for the earner, learner, yearner.
Less criticism of the field and court
And more preoccupation with the sport.
It makes the prophet in us all presage
The glory of a next Augustan age
Of a power leading from its strength and pride,
Of young ambition eager to be tried,
Firm in our free beliefs without dismay,
In any game the nations want to play.
A golden age of poetry and power
Of which this noonday’s the beginning hour.

© Robert Frost (Uit: Robert Frost – Collected Poems, Prose, and Plays)


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Een Kommentaar op “Louis Esterhuizen. Robert Frost as geleentheidsdigter”

  1. In sy bundel “Deur die oog van die naald” (1996) verwys Mathews Phosa na Robert Frost se “The Gift Outright” in die gedig “ons het ons land verlaat”. Phosa se gedig beskryf die Suid-Afrika van voor 1994:

    ons het die land besit voor dit ons besit het
    dit was ons land honderde jare
    voor ons syne was, dit was ons s’n
    die land aan die suidpunt van Afrika
    ons is nie meer die land se burgers nie
    ons het oorgegee

    ons het alles besit
    wat vandag aan ander siele behoort
    ons het die en daardie beskuldig
    terwyl ek en jy die skuldiges was
    ons het niks vir ander generasies gedoen nie
    want ons het ons land verlaat en oorgegee
    ons het oorgegee

    Phosa en sy redakteur by Tafelberg, Charles Fryer, het waarskynlik gedink Frost se gedig is so bekend dat ‘n erkenning van die bron nie nodig is nie.