Monday's book: Homage to Robert Frost by Joseph Brodsky, Seamus Heaney and Derek Walcott
None of the pieces was intended for this book, having previously appeared elsewhere (Brodsky's has just been republished by Penguin in his collection of essays, On Grief and Reason). Hence it feels slightly contrived as Faber cleverly "repurposes" some casual work by three star writers. But that's a quibble: all these essays are tremendously valuable, not just for what they reveal about Frost, but as object lessons in the art of reading.
Brodsky was a master at the close reading. He reminds us that "poetry is a dame with a huge pedigree and every word comes practically barnacled with allusions and associations". He examines each barnacle with great gusto.
His brilliant examinations of "Come In" and "Home Burial" locate Frost far from the homely whittler of verses, laying bare the terror of immense space, undefined wilderness and silence that lurks behind much of his finest work.
Such interpretations are not wholly new, but these essays don't primarily concern themselves with thematics. Rather, they focus on the poet's necessary obsession with language. All three authors display their acuity in sounding out the tonality of a line, or a word. And since it is reading that teaches us how to write, there is a great deal to learn from the way good poets read good poems.
Heaney stresses Frost's musicality, exulting in his poems as "events in language, flaunts and vaunts full of projective force and deliquescent backwash, the crestings of a tide that lifts all spirits". Frost's own theory of "the sound of sense" is a frequent reference-point in appreciating how he managed to force the straitjacket of pentameter verse to fit his New England vernacular as comfortably as an old coat.
Walcott, great technician that he is, is particularly skilled at anatomising a stanza. He explains the exact location of a vital caesura, showing how lines articulate around the joint of an end-stopped rhyme, and how Frost's tightly sculpted rhythms work to animate the whole frame.
Whatever Frost's personal shortcomings - vanity, vindictiveness, provincialism, racism - they become irrelevant here. "Poetry," Walcott writes (and his dictum could be applied far beyond the present case), "is its own realm and does not pardon. There is nothing to forgive Frost's poetry for. There are instead many poems to be grateful for... since poetry pronounces benediction not on the poet but on the reader." The reader of these essays, too, will find much reward.
Faber & Faber, pounds 7.99
Life & Style blogs
The Evil Within preview: a survival horror fan’s best worst nightmare
Porn film production likely to stop in Los Angeles after actor tests positive for HIV
Ice Bucket Challenge: ALS Association doesn't yet know what to do with all of the money raised
The 3D-printed key that can unlock anything
Anal sex study reveals climate of 'coercion'
Robin Williams Emmys tribute led by Billy Crystal criticised for including 'racist' joke about Muslim woman
The Rotherham child abuse scandal is a tale of apologists, misogyny and double standards
What do immigrants really think of Britain? Polish immigrant's Reddit post goes viral
Scottish independence TV debate: Pumped-up Alex Salmond bounces back in bruising second round against Alistair Darling
Do you realise just how foolish the UK looks?
With Douglas Carswell joining Ukip, my party has taken another giant step forward
- 1 Keira Knightley topless: Usually conservative actress does own take on #Freethenipple campaign for Interview Magazine
- 2 Oil tanker with $100 million cargo goes missing off Texas coast
- 3 George Galloway left with severe bruising after attack in Notting Hill by man 'shouting about the Holocaust'
- 4 Lady al-Qa’ida: On the trail of Dr Aafia Siddiqui, the world’s most wanted prisoner
- 5 A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
- < Previous
- Next >
£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...
Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...
£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...
£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...