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Poetry Clippings
Articles on Poetry in Culture, History, whatever   -  Patriotic Poems by the PoetPatriot

Clipping Index     -     Poem Index     -     Poetry Quotes


       - Roger W Hancock     

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Presidential Poets

by Roger W Hancock

     The annals of history have recorded many quotes from each of America’s presidents. Some of our presidents have written poetry. George Washington wrote two poems while still in his youth, one was an unfinished acrostic using a name, the subject of a youthful infatuation. Thomas Jefferson wrote a few but had probably the greatest appreciation for poetry of any of our presidents. Jefferson kept scrapbooks for poetry clippings. There were, however, only four presidents that had been considered as “poets” by others.

     John Quincy Adams the Sixth president of the United States was the first to write poetry with a sense of being a poet. Adams wrote secular verse, hymns and versified some of the Psalms from the Bible. Quincy also translated “Oberon,” Christoph Martin Wieland’s epic. This passage from Adams, “For life itself is but a span, And earthly bliss -- a song,” is from his poem, “The wants of Man,” which was first published in the Albany Evening Journal on September 3rd, 1841. Adams insinuates a self revue of his work when he wrote, “Could I have chosen my own genius and condition, I would have made myself a great poet.”

     John Tyler the 10th U.S. President was the first to be married while serving as president. “Shall I again that Harp unstrung, Which long hath been a useless thing, Unheard in Lady's bower?” are lines from a poem reflecting upon his second love encountered. Under time of distress he would resort to poetry. “Oh child of my love as a beautiful flower; Thy blossom expanded a short fleeting hour,” is from a poem he wrote when his daughter died at three months. Tyler’s poetry remained mostly unknown but became a source of consolation and delight of those within the circle of his private life.

     Abraham Lincoln was self educated and the third president with a collection of poetic writings. Lincoln’s favorite poem was William Knox’s “Mortality.” Lincoln’s “My Childhood-Home I See Again” was divided into two cantos. “Where many were, how few remain Of old familiar things: But seeing them, to mind again The lost and absent brings,” is from the first canto. A third canto, “The Bear Hunt,” was written later. Lincoln had sent the cantos to his friend Andrew Johnston in three separate letters. Andrew Johnston asked permission of Lincoln and after receiving all three cantos had published the first two. Under the title, “The Return” with the divisions as “Part I – Reflection” and Part II – The Maniac,” Lincoln’s poem was printed in the Quincy Whig on May 5th, 1847. Lincoln puts himself in the place of General Lee when writing “Verse On Lee’s Invasion of the North,” “In eighteen sixty three, with pomp, and might swell, Me and Jeff’s Confederacy went forth to sack Phil-del. The Yankees the got arter us, and giv us particular hell, And we skedaddled back again, And didn’t sack Phil-del.”

     Jimmy Carter is known as the first president to write a novel, however, eight years before he was the first president to write a book of poetry. “Always A Reckoning and Other Poems” was published in 1995. Among the mixed revues was Michiko Kakutani who said of the poems,"well-meaning, dutifully wrought poems that plod from Point A to Point B without ever making a leap into emotional hyperspace.” Three titles from the book are “Peanuts,” “A motorcycle sister” and “My first try for votes.” The book also expressed his thoughts on his wife Rosalynn and his life in the military on a submarine.

    Barach Obama had two poems published in "Feast," an Occidental College literary journal, in 1981. "Pop" is about lack of respect and interspection. Obams's second "Underground" appears to have been a poetic excercise where one simply lets their imagination direct the next line wherever it takes you. Obama has shown an appreciation of poetry with his inviting Elizabeth Alexander to read at his inauguration in 2009. Obama On May 11, 2011, Barack hosted an evening of poetry featuring Elizabeth Alexander, Billy Collins, gangsta rapper Common, Rita Dove, Kenneth Goldsmith, Alison Knowles Aimee Mann and Jill Scott. Obama has been seen carrying a book of collected poems and has said he reads Urdu poetry.

     James Madison wrote three poems as an undergraduate at Princeton proving to himself he was not a poet. Teachers and parents encourage our youth saying, “anyone can become president.” President or poet, one must try to prove the prudent path. Even a poet can become president, or is it; even a president can aspire to be a poet?

© Roger W Hancock July 2nd, 2007, August 21st, 2011

Presidential Poets
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