Monday's book: Homage to Robert Frost by Joseph Brodsky, Seamus Heaney and Derek Walcott

Robert Frost has passed into the poetic pantheon as the apotheosis of Yankee values: crustily cynical and dry, but with long roots in a source of homespun wisdom earthed deep in the landscape of the American north- east. Frost himself, during his long career, did much to propagate the myth. Here, three major poets set out to reclaim his work from the grasp of the authorial persona.

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

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Sport
Arsenal signing Calum Chambers
sportGunners complete £16m transfer of Southampton youngster
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

    £26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

    QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

    £35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

    Property Finance Partner

    Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

    Agile Tester

    £28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

    Day In a Page

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on