The Presidency, in Verse


Arts & Culture

We may know their takes on climate change, on reproductive rights, on economic policy. But what of poetry? The Poetry Foundation has investigated the poets the presidents loved, and presented their findings in an illuminating and timely post. Just a few pairings:

George Washington and Phillis Wheatley

An educated African slave, Phillis Wheatley became the first African American woman to publish a collection of poetry, with the book appearing in 1773. Three years later, she sent a poem she wrote to George Washington that celebrated the general’s leadership. Washington wrote back to praise her “great poetical Talents” and told Wheatley that should she ever visit Cambridge, Massachusetts, he would be “be happy to see a person so favoured by the Muses.”

Abraham Lincoln and Robert Burns

Abraham Lincoln adored poetry. Lincoln was especially fond of Scottish poet Robert Burns, and committed many of his poems to memory. In 1865 Lincoln was invited to give a toast at a banquet honoring the poet, but he declined, writing: “I cannot frame a toast to Burns. I can say nothing worthy of his generous heart and transcending genius. Thinking of what he has said, I can not say anything which seems worth saying.”


For the whole rundown—from Jefferson to Ford to Obama—see the Poetry Foundation web site.