On the 50th Anniversary of President Kennedy’s Assassination

Today we remember the assassination of John F. Kennedy, President and poetry advocate. Less than one month before his death, he gave a speech at Amherst College to honor poet Robert Frost. The following quotations are excerpts from his speech.

A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers …

The men who create power make an indispensable contribution to the nation’s greatness, but the men who question power make a contribution just as indispensable, especially when that questioning is disinterested, for they determine whether we use power or power uses us …

When power leads man toward 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 truths which must serve as the touchstones of our judgment.

If sometimes our great artists have been the most critical of our society, it is because their sensitivity and their concern for justice, which must motivate any true artist, make them aware that our nation falls short of its highest potential.”

A Poem on Death, Grief, and Social Injustice:
From Robert Hayden’s “Words in Mourning Time”

For King, for Robert Kennedy,
destroyed by those they could not save,
for King for Kennedy I mourn.
And for America, self destructive, self-betrayed.

I grieve. Yet know the vanity
of grief – through power of
The Blessed Exile’s
transilluminating word

aware of how these deaths, how all
the agonies of our deathbed childbed age
are process, major means whereby,
oh dreadfully, our humanness must be achieved.

 

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