“If more politicians knew poetry, and more poets knew politics, I am convinced the world would be a better place in which to live.” ~ John F. Kennedy
“Writing helps you to express your deepest feelings. Once you can express yourself you can tell the world what you want from it or how you would like to change it. All the changes in the world, for good or evil, were first brought about by words.” ~ Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
When Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was little, she’d visit her grandfather every Wednesday after dance lessons. Do you know what they did together? Memorized poetry.
In her preface to The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (Hyperion, 2001), Caroline Kennedy says, “One of the greatest gifts my brother and I received from my mother was her love of literature and language.”
Their family tradition was to choose or compose, then write out and illustrate, a poem for their mother each holiday and birthday. These were saved in a big scrapbook (wouldn’t you just love to see it), and some of JFK, Jr.’s, and Caroline’s selections are included in the anthology.
As I read through the poems, I gained a good sense of Jackie’s sensibility. Her taste in poetry — e.e. cummings, Countee Cullen, Robert Frost, Shakespeare, Dickinson, and Yeats, to name a few, was as flawless and refined as her taste in fashion, interior design, and music. Though I had read many of these classic poems before, this time they somehow felt more intimate and significant, knowing they were personal favorites of someone I’ve long admired.
Today I’d like to share the one poem in the collection that resonated the most for me, given the present political, social, and economic climate in America. It seems almost prophetic, as we struggle to regain some of the hope, vitality, and unity that we’ve somehow lost. The Kennedy White House was magical and exciting; the young President and his family inspired, delighted, and engaged Americans, reminded us why we were here, made us want to do more, and above all, made us believe in the possibility of better things.
In 1953, the year she married John F. Kennedy, Jackie wrote this poem, which she would present to him on their first anniversary. He was a young Senator from Massachusetts, and she seemed to know, even then, that he was destined for greatness.
MEANWHILE IN MASSACHUSETTS
by Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy
Meanwhile in Massachusetts Jack Kennedy dreamed
Walking the shore by the Cape Cod Sea
Of all the things he was going to be.
He breathed in the tang of the New England fall
And back in his mind he pictured it all,
The burnished New England countryside
Names that a patriot says with pride
Concord and Lexington, Bunker Hill
Plymouth and Falmouth and Marstons Mill
Winthrop and Salem, Lowell, Revere
Quincy and Cambridge, Louisburg Square.
This was his heritage — this was his share
Of dreams that a young man harks in the air.
The past reached out and tracked him now
He would heed that touch; he didn’t know how.
Part he must serve, a part he must lead
Both were his calling, both were his need.
Part he was of New England stock
As stubborn, close guarded as Plymouth Rock
He thought with his feet most firm on the ground
But his heart and his dreams were not earthbound
He would call New England his place and his creed
But part he was of an alien breed
Of a breed that had laughed on Irish hills
And heard the voices in Irish rills.
The lilt of that green land danced in his blood
Tara, Killarney, a magical flood
That surged in the depth of his too proud heart
And spiked the punch of New England so tart
Men would call him thoughtful, sincere
They would not see through to the Last Cavalier.
He turned on the beach and looked toward his house.
On a green lawn his white house stands
And the wind blows the sea grass low on the sands
There his brothers and sisters have laughed and played
And thrown themselves to rest in the shade.
The lights glowed inside, soon supper would ring
And he would go home where his father was King.
But now he was here with the wind and the sea
And all the things he was going to be.
He would build empires
And he would have sons
Others would fall
Where the current runs
He would find love
He would never find peace
For he must go seeking
The Golden Fleece
All of the things he was going to be
All of the things in the wind and the sea.
(Inspired by “John Brown’s Body” by Stephen Vincent Benet)
Photo credit: InSearchofKennedy.com
Check out the Poetry Friday Roundup at Becky’s Book Reviews.
As always, the Poetry Friday master schedule can be found at
Big A little a.
If you’re new to Poetry Friday, read Susan Thomsen’s excellent article here.