Conservative Radicals


Our Daily Correspondent

frost meet the press

Frost on Meet the Press in 1955.

First, a general note: At what point do we stop celebrating the birthdays of the deceased? Yes, Robert Frost was born on this day in 1874, and yes, that would make him 141 today—had not death intervened in 1963, when, at eighty-eight, Frost had already been around for a good while. At a certain point, can’t we just say that today is “the anniversary of his birth”? The word birthday no longer seems to apply—in the normal range of things, it starts to feel a bit macabre. One begins to imagine cakes and party hats on gravestones. 

In any case, by the time Frost died, he was a national celebrity: a grand old man of letters who read at inaugurations, appeared on magazine covers, and spoke on the radio regularly. And so this clip of Frost on Meet the Press from 1955—very much doing his best Robert Frost impression and answering the panelists’ questions with his signature mix of world-weariness and puckish gravitas—is not, in itself, so surprising. What is striking is that this ran on Christmas Day—and presumably everyone across America watched it. (At least everyone who wasn’t watching the yule log.)

Frost airs his views on education—better to make art early and often, if one is so inclined—and on students: “I wish they were more dangerous … more chancy in their lives … I want them to grow up to be conservative radicals.” And generally he gives us a little of his twinkly-eyed Yankee home brew; for some time after you watch this clip, it’s hard not to imitate his manner of saying yes. He manages to give every utterance the air of a Robert Frost poem. Homely, straightforward, yet potentially loaded with meaning.

Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.