The Gift Outright

by Robert Frost

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What is Robert Frost's purpose in writing "The Gift Outright"?

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The author appears to have had multiple purposes in writing the poem, "The Gift Outright".  On one level, it is a statement about the history and future of the United States of America.  Frost describes the situation in which the first settlers in Massachusetts and Virginia possessed the land while they were still subjects of England.  As such, the possession was not complete; though the settlers lived on and off the land, they were not committed to it through citizenship.  Because of this, "the land vagely realizing westward...(was) unstoried, artless, unenhanced".

Through this illustration, the author was making an appeal to all America in writing this poem.  His message is that possession of a land is a two-way-street; we cannot reap the benefits of living in a country such as ours without giving of ourselves in return as well.  "Something we (are) withholding (will make) us weak", and once we realize this, we will find "salvation (only) in surrender", through the "outright" giving of ourselves.  Only then will our land become "such as she would become", reaching its full potential, a home strong and sure instead of "vague".

It is fitting that Robert Frost read this poem at the 1961 inauguration of John F. Kennedy.  Its message is in keeping with the theme of the young President's speech exhorting Americans to "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country".

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